The public relations industry learned some tough lessons during the
last recession. Even now, some years on, consultancies are still finding
a dearth of quality in middle and senior management. This is primarily
due to the short-termism of some consultancies which balked at seeing
bottom lines turn several shades of red and slashed training and
A lack of investment in talent remains a problem as clients demand
better quality consultancy from all levels.
Thankfully, unlike agencies in other sectors of the marketing
communications industry, several forward-thinking consultancies, such as
the Red Constancy and Countrywide Porter Novelli, spotted this problem
and decided to ensure that future entrants to the PR industry were given
sound training in order to maintain the highest possible skill
So how have these consultancies gone about improving their training
structures and filling the skills gap?
Training methods can range from a formal, structured system to a more
informal intuitive approach. Both require a mix of classroom training
and on the job coaching. The formal style includes induction, team
building and motivational exercises aimed at improving specific aspects
of business performance. All activities are subsequently evaluated to
check whether they have improved an individual’s performance.
At the other extreme is an informal structure, which is more an act of
faith - this is where the passion for staff development at a senior
level permeates right through the company. The staff then become
enthused with learning more and pushing to improve themselves. Thus, a
consultancy’s approach to training can and should reflect its size,
circumstances and culture.
But what advantages do consultancies get from better staff
It makes sound business sense to ensure that a consultancy recruits the
best possible staff and offers the best possible training. Consultancies
which are working towards Investors in People standards are required to
adopt the discipline of evaluating their training and development
activities and see the benefits in black and white.
Clients are happier as the consultancy service continues to improve,
staff are happier developing and acquiring more skills, enabling them to
offer a more valued service to their clients and increasing their value
in the job market. In short, good staff development leads to bottom line
growth for consultants and staff.
An investment in training gives a competitive edge to a consultancy.
Prospective employees will not want to join a consultancy where they are
unlikely to learn more skills, and staff will become demoralised and
demotivated if they feel they are being left behind. Clients will then
follow suit and relocate to consultancies which can offer a better, more
With the possibility of an economic slow down around the corner, PR
consultancies must learn from previous mistakes. They must take their
lead from those forward-thinking consultancies and the PRCA and IPR
which have invested time and money into filling the training gaps within
the industry and making it a more professional and credible sector.
It has taken several years for the PR industry to make up some of the
ground lost during the last recession. Staff training and development
give a competitive advantage in the long run.
The prize for those who continue to invest in their staff over the next
few years will be accelerated growth through the next upturn.
John Gage is a consultant at Results Business Consultancy.