Continuous Professional Development has long been recognised as a vital component in a Communicator’s toolkit. Agencies invest a lot more in their junior and senior staff and organisations have extended their basic communication and social media skills across all employee levels. Professional body membership is now a standard expected on every application form.
So why can it still prove difficult for PR’s to have Learning and Development requests for funding approved? Budgets are an issue currently and that’s understandable but it isn’t fully justifiable for people who hold positions like ours. So here’s my advice on how to argue your case and what to do when it falls on deaf ears.
Why CPD matters in PR
As CIPR President Stephen Waddington explained in his June article for PR Week;
“Public Relations is the conscience and voice of an organisation. Our actions have a significant impact on society.”
Indeed. Our roles are also extremely open to abuse and therefore demand adherence to strict ethics and legal requirements. In the same way that an organisation wouldn’t continue to hire an Accountant or HR Manager who wasn’t annually chartered, they should both expect and support the same for their communicators.
We’ve all seen what happens when someone ill-trained gets control of the company Twitter profile. We have the power to destroy corporate reputation and public trust. Speaking publicly on behalf of your employer numerous times a day is a huge responsibility that we don’t take lightly.
Increasingly, organisations are also benchmarking employee skills and knowledge, setting objectives that flow down from the overall corporate strategy and the evaluation of which flows back up to Board level. That’s not a problem in itself…
The problem with CPD in PR
This probably applies less to agencies and more to in-house communicators where the role is lesser understood among a plethora of other professionals, but the fact is you may have to be more explicit in explaining why you need the training you’re asking for. Everyone needs to keep their skills updated but how many industries can claim to move at the same lightening pace as Digital Communications?
For example, when I graduated (from a PR-specific degree) in 2006, no one used Facebook. In the last four years alone, four of the big social media channels have become mainstream. We’re now expected to know how to fully utilise them.
Google Analytics too has changed regularly from one animal-related update to another (Panda? Penguin??) There was no digital marketing element to my degree course. Most of us are completely self-taught. Yet we will be expected to not only produce web stats and explain them, we will also be asked to fix them.
Search Engine Optimisation is therefore just one example of a skill regularly expected of in-house communicators and yet, because the roles aren’t envisaged as “digital” in their inception, it’s a skill that is rarely recruited for.
Why Employers Should Welcome PR Training Requests
People who show that they’re conscientious about their own personal development should be seen as highly engaged. After all, an appetite for learning shows you’re committed to your role but flexible in what will be required of you. Such people also tend to bring a continuous improvement ethos to the workplace by expecting more of themselves and their team and sharing their learning for the benefit of all.
Let’s be honest, we don’t generally have time for “jollies.” As people who regularly work more than our contracted hours (Saturday night Facebooking anyone?) if we ask for support in doing extra work, especially in our spare time, you can bet your next funding bid there’s a darn good reason for it!
How To Keep Your PR Skills Up To Date
If you still can’t manage to find the time, budget or management support for training at work there’s still plenty you can do yourself to be proactive and at least try to ensure you’re doing everything by the (latest) book:
• Conferences and webinars – often you can’t get applications for courses approved but you might find snippets online. You could also be told to attend conferences that have been paid for by the company. Get what you can from these, the networking is normally the best part of them
• Voluntary work and mentoring – I’ve learned a lot over the years by volunteering with professionals in other charities and more recently, volunteering my time on the CIPR committee in N. Ireland
• Blogging and publishing articles – I’ve said before how starting this blog was as much a professional exercise as it was personal. I specifically chose WordPress because our corporate website is hosted by it
• Training others – I’m often dumbfounded to be described as “the digital one” or the one who can teach others how to use various platforms. I’m no expert. But training others can help you notice where the gaps in your skills/knowledge lie
• Joining committees, professional associations, campaign groups – I’ve been a member of the CIPR since 2010 and a committee member since February 2014. I can’t do justice to the benefit this has had on my professional development
• Applying for industry awards – and not just for the glitzy awards dinner! Completing applications can really hone your evaluation skills and being shortlisted or winning can do wonders for morale and departmental respect among colleagues. Even losing has a benefit as most awards panels will provide some feedback so you can build on what you’ve achieved so far