Three ways to train your staff

Training is all too often one of the first expenses to be axed in a crisis but to do so may be a big mistake. Cathy Wallace investigates

Three ways to train your staff

When cashflow is tight, training budgets can be some of the first to come under scrutiny. But a study published last year by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills shows companies that do not train their staff are more than twice as likely to fail as those that do.

Training budgets in the PR sector vary according to the priority a company places on training, and the type of training required. Most PR agencies tend to spend somewhere between £1,000 and £2,000 per employee, per year, often regardless of size. Both Burson-Marsteller and Lexis PR, which employ more than 100 staff each, claim to spend around £2,000 on each employee every year, but that figure is also spent by agencies half their size.

However, this figure is dwarfed by 84-strong Blue Rubicon, which claims to invest a staggering £20,000 per head per year on staff training and development. The agency does not reveal its fees, but it is not hard to estimate that an annual training budget of £1.7m must be somewhere between 10 and 20 per cent of the agency’s annual fee income.

‘It’s a lot of money,’ admits senior partner Fiona Joyce, ‘but attracting and retaining the kind of talent we want requires investment.’

But whatever your budget, there is a training option to suit. PRWeek has investigated three options – dedicated in-house training, external companies or individuals running training courses, and CIPR qualifications.

All three have advantages and restrictions and many agencies use a combination. In-house training ‘obviously has cost-saving appeal’, notes Paul Mathieu, a PCRA-approved trainer. Fleishman Hillard MD Lucien Vallun adds it can showcase the depth of experience of senior people.

External training may cost more – a day’s course in writing skills can set you back around £400 per employee – but Stephanie Caines, head of HR in the UK for Burson-Marsteller, says the firm uses ext-ernal training when it feels ‘a fresh perspective or a pair of eyes is required’.

For in-house comms teams, external training and/or CIPR qualifications are a good option. Riva Elliott, business development director at PMA Training, says around 60 per cent of her PR clients are in-house.

Carl Welham, head of comms at Buckingham City Council, believes it is vital that PR is seen as a profession, and a professional qualification ‘adds an air of confidence and cer-tainty to the advice you give’.

Welham recently had a team member complete a CIPR diploma and says he would ‘recommend it heartily’.

But what is right for you and your organisation? Read on.

option 1 CIPR Qualifications

What it offers…

The CIPR diploma and advanced certificate were both launched in September 1998.

To date, around 1,500 students have been awarded the diploma and 850 have gained the advanced certificate.

Typical advanced certificate students will be in the first few years of their PR careers and will be taught key concepts, techniques, theories and skills needed to do their jobs effectively.

The year-long diploma is for people who have been working in PR for a while and want to develop their strategic PR management skills. Students learn about reputation management, corporate responsibility, stakeholder theory, crisis management and PR planning.

Both qualifications are aimed at those working across the spectrum of PR and are a useful choice for small agencies with little or no in-house training capacity, those working within in-house communications teams and PROs who want a professionally recognised qualification.

The majority of CIPR students work for in-house teams – around 90 per cent of those studying for the diploma and 80 per cent of those working towards the advanced certificate.

Nina Croad, PR and marketing manager for the CIPR, says: ‘Career advancement, increased confidence, and improved decision-making skills and effectiveness are some of the most common benefits cited by graduates. Because students study while still doing their day jobs, they can implement what they have learned at work, so employers benefit too.’

Case Study Vivienne Saunders

Job title Communications officer, Buckinghamshire County Council
Training CIPR diploma
When completed September 2007 – August 2008

‘My background is in journalism and I joined Buckinghamshire County Council in 2006. I recognised coming into PR how the face of local government was changing and I had to be honest with myself and realise a background in journalism was not enough to do the broad role I was being asked to do.

I had seen information in the office on CIPR qualifications and was interested. My head of comms said if I was prepared to put the time in to do it, the council would fund it for me.

The course can be taken a number of ways, including online, but I am a people person and learn best in a team environment. I spent every third Saturday at Birkbeck College in London, and there was a lot of work to do outside the classroom.

I learned to think strategically and how to take a broader view – working in a media team it is easy to get into silo thinking and not look beyond the press event or issue you are promoting.

The course gave me so much confidence and I felt I was growing intellectually and in my professional role.

One of the hardest things was right at the beginning, the dawning realisation of what I had taken on.

There is a lot of reading but I found the more I read the more hungry I became to learn more.

I would recommend the course to anyone – it is hard work but you get out what you put in.’

option 2 In-house training

What it offers…

For larger PR agencies with a wealth of experience to share, in-house training can be both cost-effective and a good way of sharing expertise.

‘We use in-house training where we feel we have skills,’ says Lynda Redington, operations director at Lexis PR. ‘We have a digital team who are very specialised so we use them for online PR and digital media training.’

Claire Soutar, HR generalist for Waggener Edstrom, agrees: ‘If the training is to do with what we as an agency are doing for our clients, then we bring that in-house. We also have a lot of specialists. A big advantage of in-house training is time – PR is such a reactive industry and you have to be able to teach people skills quickly.’

In-house training can give employees a deeper insight into the way their own company works, and put them in contact with senior members of staff they would not otherwise come across in their day-to-day lives.

It also helps instill a sense of company loyalty. Redington says since launching a dedicated staff training programme, with a strong in-house element, attendance has improved considerably. ‘It is now
at nearly 90 per cent – before we launched the training programme it was quite a bit more patchy,’
she says.

Case study Gemma McCarthy

Job title Project manager/copywriter, Burson-Marsteller sister agency Marsteller
Training Visionary Client Leadership
When completed March-April 2008

‘My managing director put me forward for the course. I had only been at the agency for about a month and wanted more experience of the bigger picture when managing clients. The seven-week course focuses on how to establish, maintain and improve partnerships with clients. More than 20 of Burson-Marsteller’s own client leaders served as faculty members and dedicated hours to helping students.

The course had weekly learnings and monthly meetings and we did a lot of learning through the intranet.
I had worked on project-based clients in previous roles but within the past three months I have become global account manager for a major client. The course has helped me understand how to use effective comms, manage expectations and deliver extra value.

Within my team I have stepped up in terms of the level of responsibility and I now handle two leading clients for our area. I have really put the course into practice and grown from it. In-house training lets you build internal relationships as well and I have a much wider support network as a result. I know who the senior executives are and being able to learn from them is a major advantage.’

option 3 External training

What it offers…

External training is useful not just for smaller PR agencies that do not have the capacity to run in-house sessions, but also for larger agencies if they want an outside perspective.

Redington says Lexis uses external training for basic PR skills such as presentation courses. Stephanie Caines, head of HR at Burson-Marsteller, adds: ‘We use external trainers so staff can benefit from seeing a wider perspective, not just from within the company.’

Trainer Paul Mathieu, a former agency head, runs writing skills training for PR agencies including Fleishman Hillard. ‘If you only use in-house trainers there may be a risk of training fatigue,’ he says. ‘It can blend into one – the boss teaching crisis management, the boss coaching on client meetings. Junior staff may also be more inhibited in challenging their own seniors in a training session than they would an outsider.’

Caines adds: ‘Internal training can be prone to cancellation quite a lot, and there are specific skills needed for training. Untrained trainers tend to teach others using their own style, which may not work for everyone.’

Soutar says external training can be easier to organise than in-house training if a small number of staff need very specific training.

Case study Alex Moyles

Job title Account executive, Fleishman Hillard
Training Writing Skills run by Paul Mathieu
When completed October 2008

‘I was put forward for this course by my manager – I came from an in-house background so had not done any training like this before. The course was very practical and interactive, which is the best way of learning. It covered the basic principles of writing and looked at examples of good and bad press releases. We also examined the key elements to bear in mind when writing an article: who are you writing for and who is going to publish it?

I do a lot of writing and briefing so it was very useful for me. I am now able to look at something and be confident and constructively critical, especially as within our team we have a policy that if you are sending anything out you get someone else to read it first.

Having an external trainer was useful in giving an outside perspective and he really knew what he was talking about. He encouraged all of us to participate and everyone felt relaxed and confident about contributing.

If you are going on a course you have to give up a whole day’s work and if you feel you cannot contribute you’re not going to get the most out of the day.’

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