MP&F partner Alice Chapman recently attended her fourth PRSA Counselors Academy Spring Conference, an annual event where independent agency owners and other senior leaders come together for professional development and networking. Chapman penned an article for PRSA’s monthly publication, Public Relations Tactics, expressing the importance of staff development and keeping employees engaged. We have provided Alice’s full column below with the permission of Public Relations Tactics.
I recently returned from PRSA’s Counselors Academy Spring Conference, an annual event where independent agency owners and other senior leaders come together for professional development and to trade ideas and tactics on running a successful PR firm.
This was my fourth year in attendance, and as usual I left recharged after spending three days talking about the business of public relations.
Inevitably, the conversations turned to everyone’s most valuable asset: their staffs, and the importance of keeping employees engaged and growing in their careers. It reminded me why we put so much time and energy into our agency’s staff-development program, and why it is so ingrained in our company culture.
At MP&F Public Relations, where I am one of five equity partners, staff development isn’t just a priority; it is the heart and soul of our business model. We hire predominantly at the entry-level staff associate position, which allows us to help employees shape their approach to public relations. (It also creates a lot of upward mobility through the ranks.)
It begins on day one. New staff associates are assigned a buddy and a mentor. They meet monthly with a designated member of our senior staff to talk about workload and their goals for their time as a staff associate. They work under a high level of guidance and supervision for a year, at which point they are typically promoted to assistant account executive.
I like to say that our firm is like a teaching hospital. We train college graduates to work in our agency, and we infuse them with our culture of teamwork and our way of doing things at every turn. We do this not only to protect our investment but to also further the profession. Our ultimate goal is to keep the staff we have and train them to be leaders — leaders of their teams, leaders of our firm and leaders in our community. As a former staff associate myself, I am proud that 10 of our 16 senior account leaders also joined our firm as staff associates.
But our staff-development strategy doesn’t stop at the entry level. It permeates each rung of our organizational chart, through continued mentorships and professional development opportunities. We have had to make changes and adjustments along the way, most of which have been the result of staff input.
This year for the first time, we are working with each member of our senior staff on individual development plans. Senior leaders are mapping out their goals for the year — become a voice in our city’s Latino community, develop new business in the construction industry, become certified in Google Analytics. They’re also telling us what they need from the firm in order to achieve those goals, e.g., training or membership in a specific industry organization.
Other staff-development tactics we use include:
- Twice-a-year staff retreats featuring relevant guest speakers, as well as highly competitive field-day activities. (Human Hungry Hippos, anyone?)
- An internal professional development program. Speakers include members of our staff who have expertise to share, as well as outside experts on topics ranging from how to use analytics software to making the most of networking events.
- A stipend for membership in professional organizations.
- Annual evaluations for all staff, with 360-degree feedback as a major component.
This is a column about change, so my challenge to you is to implement just one change to your staff-development plan before the end of the year. If you don’t have a plan, make one. If you do, look at how you can make it better. I promise it will pay dividends.