Training at work

By The Drum, Administrator

March 9, 2006 | 8 min read

Janis Neil, Parallel 56

In all industries, training is vital to a modern business that wishes to remain competitive. However, the creative communications industry is one that moves faster than most with new technology being introduced at a rapid rate. Those that are not quick to embrace and understand new practices and technologies can find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

Being a skills-led service industry, people are the most important asset an agency has, so it is vital that an investment in the training of staff is made to benefit the business and staff alike.

“In all businesses, in particular service businesses, people are the prime assets,” says Janis Neil, head of skills and training at Parallel 56. “A manufacturing company would maintain its key assets through a maintenance and improvement programme. Service businesses are no different – it’s just that their assets are people and not machines or widgets. It is a fundamental issue of continuous improvement and if you want that you need to make continual investment in people.

“Parallel 56 conducts the largest e-business surveys in the UK each year and the research proves time and time again that the most enabled companies with the highest investment in training are growing faster and have the most motivated staff.

“I couldn’t overstate the importance of staying up to speed with the latest innovations in technology,” she continues. “Businesses are now developing more and more dependency on technology and particularly the Internet. But most people in business use only a small percentage of functionality of the software or website platforms. Our job is to increase that knowledge and unlock the value.”

From offices in Glasgow, Edinburgh and London, Parallel 56 offers marketing and internet training programmes for a range of public and private sector clients, training over 500 companies in the last 12 months across the UK.

“We are finding that budgets for online development are growing every year as businesses now recognise the real value of their web presence,” continues Neil. “Having invested a lot of money, they must invest in the skills of the people that have the responsibility for maintaining the website. Search Engine Optimisation, Web Copywriting and Pay-Per-Click advertising have been the most popular of our training programmes over the past year.”

Tom Madden, director at Quix, agrees. “It is imperative for business to keep abreast of new technologies to stay in business. If you don’t, your competitors will gain a competitive advantage over you. While I don’t believe in technology for its own sake, new hardware and software will always offer new facilities which weren’t previously possible – things which were previously time consuming and costly have become commonplace.

“It’s important to be ahead of the pack, though not necessarily at the “bleeding edge”. This will give you an advantage over your competition. Sometimes you can gain an advantage by being first into the market with a particular product or service, but this brings with it the risk of spending a lot of R&D time and money on something which doesn’t take of and ultimately gets dropped (anyone remember Quark Immedia?).”

Quix is a Bathgate-based company servicing the graphics industries throughout the UK, providing specialist training since 1991.

“Training brings improvement in productivity, and that’s enough to justify the cost,” continues Madden. “There are features in programs like Illustrator and Photoshop that bring huge improvements in productivity that 80 percent of the people using the programs don’t know about, but would use every single day once they are aware of the benefits.

“For the company, training improves efficiency and morale, resulting in employees staying longer, which also means less time and cost in recruiting and training replacement staff which is hugely expensive.

“Any activity, whether it involves a cost, or not, where an employee feels the employer cares about them and is prepared to put time and effort into helping that employee, will improve the morale and hence the productivity.”

The frequency of attending a course depends on the circumstances of the company and the individual, continues Madden. “All too often people don’t attend training courses for several years at time, and then have a burst of training which in some case might be too concentrated. My own feeling is that it should be a minimum of four days a year. I know one organisation that has a policy of 12 days per year training per individual, which is perhaps excessive for an average studio. I would like to see a “best practice” published that gives guidance for this, and I think it would be interesting to publish league tables of training which showed how much training staff had in a year. I think there would be a surprising number of companies where the number was a big fat zero.

“The current state of training within most small studios is severely lacking. I think people should have an allocated training budget, both in terms of cost, and time. Most small companies consider training to be a cost to the business since they can’t necessarily directly quantify the results of a training course, and when times are difficult, the training budget is often the first thing to get cut, and the last thing to be re-instated when things improve. How many small to medium companies even have a training budget?”

“We advise clients to follow the same basic principle of personal development for their employees as we do for our own team,” concludes Neil. “Our business needs the best people in the market delivering to a consistently high standard. Continued commitment to their personal and professional development is always appreciated and is the best way of keeping good people.”

Media Training

When Scottish Enterprise puts out a statement saying it is definitely not facing a financial crisis, when Gate Gourmet tells the media that it will identify and sack “troublemakers” and when Tessa Jowell defends her estranged husband’s financial dealings by saying “It’s not unusual, it’s not improper and it’s certainly not illegal” - you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

How often has the smile of confidence on a marketing director’s face turned to slack-jawed horror as he or she sees the success of their substantial advertising budget turned to ashes with a few ill-chosen words to the press? You could almost see the marketing guru at Barclay’s reach for the arsenic when his CEO told the media “I wouldn’t borrow on a credit card. They’re much too expensive.”

Why do they do it? Why not keep clear of the media entirely? The straight answer is that every organisation, public or private, relies on public support to survive. There is no substitute for third-party endorsement of your organisation. For example, imagine if a major airline was to ignore all journalists, and instead put out a series of one-page adverts saying “Our planes are entirely safe” or “We Have Very Few Delays On Our Flights”, you can easily imagine what effect that would have on the travelling public. They would quite rightly conclude that this airline was in deep trouble.

But if a journalist were to write the same thing, the public would be convinced that this was indeed a safe and reliable airline. People, notoriously, believe everything they read in newspaper reports. So you want to make sure the media are saying the right things about you.

There is a myth that journalists can spot, and take an instant dislike to interviewees who have been media trained. This comes from a misunderstanding of journalists, and of media training. What press, radio and TV journalists want is someone who knows what story they want to put across, and can do so in an engaging and lively way. And that is why interviewees who have been trained to handle the media situation well can actually help the journalistic process. It is not about spinning a web of deceit – it is about giving answers that can actually be used.

Most media training clients arrive on the day thinking they can’t do it. When I ask what words they would use to describe a journalist, most of them are unprintable. But by the end of the day they are beginning to think like journalists themselves, and more often they have formed into a team that really understands the value of being ‘on message.’ They have stepped out of the bunker, but rather than just staring blankly into the guns of the enemy, they’ve emerged with a purpose, and a plan.

Media trainers hope that nobody will know about their greatest successes. You should never be able to spot a highly trained interviewee. But do you occasionally see someone on television, or read their interview in the paper, and say to yourself “that guy’s a natural?” Nine times out of ten they weren’t, before they had the courage to sign up for some professional training.

Paul Murricane, managing director, Media Mentor


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