Kathleen Toussaint
Kathleen Toussaint

For Millennials and Zoomers starting out in a public relations career, one of the most important considerations factoring into any decision about what job to take is a future employer’s commitment to leadership and skills training.

That training is vital to the professional success of individual practitioners and the media campaigns they develop and execute. Professional development requires a combination of formal training, work experience and mentorship.

Of course, there is no shortage of outsourced opportunities for professional training offered by industry associations such as the Council of Public Relations Firms and the Public Relations Society of America. But when an agency itself is willing to invest in upskilling employees, that speaks volumes about its standards for client work quality and commitment to staff.

I recently completed a six-month leadership and skill training program developed and administered by my agency. Since I joined this corporate communications firm as a college intern three years ago, I have been promoted twice, most recently to the title of senior associate. That promotion followed the completion of a training program.

Subjects addressed in that course included understanding the client perspective, forging working relationships with journalists, optimizing content development, enhancing management skills, and gaining a better understanding of both crisis and mergers & acquisitions (M&A) communications.

The firm also offered each member of the team free enrollment in Google Professional Certificates, which cover topics like data analytics, digital marketing, e-commerce, UX (user experience), and design project management.

Equipping current employees with that kind of digital expertise can benefit the company as well as the employee. That’s especially true when you consider the ways in which audiences consume content and communicate thoughts and ideas are shifting continually. The rise of voice-activated search, for example, has already impacted how messages are shaped, shared and optimized for the way target stakeholders are engaging today.

That makes helping employees update the skill sets needed to deal with those changes essential.

Skills training should be made widely available to everyone. The PR agency world is littered with examples of firms unwilling to devote the time and financial resources to education. That is disappointing and shortsighted, but when conducting your job search, it’s important to keep it in mind.

Research from Guidant Group has found that 47 percent of businesses believe that developing staff internally will be their greatest opportunity for achieving continued business success over the next three years.

When on a job interview, don’t be shy about turning the table and asking the interviewer what the firm offers in formal skill and leadership training.

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workforce report, employers providing workers with regular training opportunities will continually upgrade the quality of their workforce, offering individual firms a significant competitive advantage in the short term. The same report also found that career growth and development opportunities are key considerations for individuals choosing an employer.

And keep in mind that there are two main ways businesses can manage skills shortages: Hire new talent or upskill employees.

Of course, steadily developing knowledge and skill sets is something that each professional will inevitably do, to some extent, throughout her career. However, in today’s digital age, when the pace of technological change is so rapid, taking a passive approach to skills development could impede one’s career growth.

Those in the communications industry, in particular, must make a concerted effort not only to seek out opportunities to learn new skills proactively but also to keep abreast of external developments on an ongoing basis.

In a media environment where constant change is the norm and where the role of the PR professional continues to expand and evolve, ongoing professional development will be increasingly essential for PR pros across all levels of experience.

And in the PR agency world, an abiding commitment to staff training is a sign of enlightened management. There is a strong tie between a commitment to training and an overall employment culture that values each individual. All soon-to-be college grads or recent grads, if given the opportunity, would do well to choose a PR agency with an effective training program. Those who do so will dramatically enhance their opportunity for job satisfaction and career advancement.


Kathleen Toussaint is a senior associate at RooneyPartners.