My friend, an account director at a provincial advertising and public relations agency, wasn’t happy.  The sun was shining, he’d not long returned from holiday and had no client meetings that day.  So I asked what could possibly be ailing him.  It turned out his proposal to introduce a social media training programme, designed to develop the agency’s social media capability, had been rejected by his board while he was drinking beer and playing golf in Alicante.  His board suggested he put together an alternative proposal to recruit a social media specialist.  He’d need to accept an additional revenue target to justify the headcount investment.

Training – essential for 21st century communicators

“My clients want social media integrated into their end-to-end marketing communications programmes,” he said. “If we can’t offer a fully integrated service, someone else will and that means raising everyone’s digital abilities across the agency, not just one person.  It’s fine to have, say, a specialist graphic designer, but social media is a skill we all need.  I think the board is socially blind.”

In truth, he wasn’t sure whether the rejection was a reluctance to invest in training during a difficult economy or if his board simply didn’t see the long-term value or necessity in developing the agency’s core digital capability.

With little else to offer him, I told him a tale.

During a board meeting, the CFO turned to the CEO when the topic of skills development budgets came up for review. “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?” asked the CFO.

“What happens if we don’t develop our people and they stay with us?” the CEO replied.

That conversation may have taken place or it might just be a good yarn, but my friend thought it a strong enough basis for him to go back and re-argue his case.

Training budgets are always among the first to be culled when the economy turns ugly. Training and skills development budgets have been trimmed significantly in most organisations in recent years, yet I can’t remember a time in my career in communications when the need to adopt and develop new skills has been greater than it is now.

I support the view that integrating social media and digital communications with our more traditional skills is a core requirement for any 21st century communicator.  We’ve gone beyond the point where it can be left to specialists hidden away in the office next door.

It’s arguably easier to under invest in training for in-house teams for a period if you have an agency that keeps its people skills in good working order. It’s more difficult in an agency when the cost of training and development has already been factored into the fees that are charged to the client.

Businesses are looking for leadership, direction and clarity on how to embed and take advantage of social media and digital technologies for reputation management and marketing strategies today.

The comms department and its PR agencies are well placed to provide that leadership, but only if the skills in the team have been well maintained.