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Let the corporate culture drive quality.

What's different, however, is that htis college campus is part of the work place -- created, organized and underwritten by the students' employer. This new incubator of ideas and homogenizer of cultures grew in response to changes in world business.

Perhaps the most dramatic change in the public relations business in recent years has been the desire for the major firms (and many smaller ones as well) to plant their flags on foreign soil. That desire has signaled possible change ahead in the working lives of more than 6,000 employees just at the world's three largest PR firms.

The big three: Burson-Marsteller, Hill and Knowlton, Inc. and Shandwick, plc, faced the future in the '80s and built global staffs of more than 2,000 employees each. The idea was that major clients would prefer to do business with a company able to offer a full complement of PR services worldwide, through its own branches and offices.

Indeed, today the concept seems to be working: Shandwick lists its international business as 60 percent of its total billings, B-M 50 percent, and H & K 40 percent, according to Jack O'Dwyer, J.R. O'Dwyer Co., Inc., New York.

Each of the three took a slightly different approach to its expansion, but they now are represented in most major and many minor areas of the world by someone with accountability to the home office.

Expansion had been put on hold even before the recession, and now the posture of these firms is simply to keep what they've built. Each has shifted its attentin to quality rather than quantity, concentrating on creating a single corporate culture and developing systems to control quality worldwide.

Training for the New Age

One of the keys to making these sprawling global structures work is to have employees in place who know the company's culture: its standards, quality expectations, ethics, and business plan. Those key employees--account handlers for the most part--must have a solid grounding not only in the company's culture, but also in the individual cultures at the divisions and offices around the world. While all these offices might fly the same flag, getting employees to behave alike is another matter.

The magic word at all three firms is training, but each is approaching the goal in its own way: Hill and Knowlton recently instituted what it calls the Hill and Knowlton College; Burson-Marsteller has broadened its basic training skills into thekey disciplines; and Shandwick has affiliated with Sterling University in Scotland to offer Shandwick employees a correspondence course leasing to an advanced degree in PR.

Training PR employees--particularly account handlers--in the '90s is more than putting someone into a classroom for a few hours, or having them look over the guy's shoulder in the next office. Today is involves exposing peoples to cultures--many cultures--to make them equally knowledgeable about the way business is done in Barcelona or Baltimore. And the goal is to do business in the same way -- at least with respect to quality -- everywhere.

Until recently, most PR people only developed awareness of another culture if their job required it. Now, and in the future, that awareness may well precede a new job, or even be prerequisite to it.

As Hill and Knowlton CEO and President Bob Dilenschneider puts it, the purpose of its new college is to "prepare and position H&K executives at all levels for the unprecedented public relations opportunities that are unfolding around the globe."

Hill and Knowlton

Goes to College

"No one is born a public relations professional; we all have to learn, and it's a process that never really ends," says Peter Rae, dean of the Hill and Knowlton College.

The college is a relatively new concept to Hill and Knowlton--the first class convened just last December in Amsterdam, Holland when 23 Hill and Knowlton junior employees from nine countries assembled to cover subjects such as account planning, managing client relations, client presentations, creativity and ethics.

The three-day session was a level I program, that is, for employees with less than four years' experience. The college also offers level II and level III programs. Level II is for professionals with more than four years' experience; level III is for managers with profit center responsibility.

The first level II session was held in New York in February with about 30 professionals from the US and Canada attending. The level II courses included: winning, managing and expanding client business; managing people; and H&K career paths.

The goal, according to Dilenschneider, is to train 1,000 people in the next three years. And, will training follow the ebb and flow of profits in the future? Dilenschneider says, "I believe it (training) has finally been given a form commensurate with the importance we attach to it. Regardless of how the business or economic climage changes, the Hill and Knowlton College is now a part of the Hill and Knowlton organizational structure and will be a permanent fixture of our Hill and Knowlton world."

Rae has scheduled eight to 10 sessions this year with two of each level to be held in the US, Europe, and Asia-Pacific regions. Conducting sessions on a regional basis saves lots of dollars. The original concept was an attempt to maximize international cultural exchange by flying participants across the oceans to sessions, but that proved too costly.

"We've found that a side benefit of the initial sessions has been an exchange of cultures within the regions -- a sense of really belonging to an international network," Rae says. High European air fares tend to keep people within their own borders unless travel is absolutely necessary. Getting employees--especially younger ones--together from nine countries in Amsterdam last December helped integrate the individual cultures.

"The goal is to link training with the company's success," says Rae. And attendance at the college will be important to professional advancement at Hill and Knowlton. "If someone is looking for a supervisor's job, they will have to have the training or the actual experience to achieve that kind of responsibility," Rae adds.

Hill and Knowlton College attendance also will tie into the company's performance evaluation program, called PACE--Performance Appraisal Career Enhancement. The program involves goal-setting between employee and supervisor, with part of the exercise involving identifying any training required to accomplish the goals.

The Shandwick Way

Of the Big Three global public relations firms, Shandwick, plc, is the one most in need of a cohesive culture and training program to ensure reliable levels of quality from its far-flung, recenlty acquired branches.

Five years ago Shandwick had 80 employees--today it has 2,200. Its growth has occurred through the purchase of existing PR consultancies, and those firms retain their own names and identities after the purchase. This practice makes fitting into a Shandwick culture tougher than is the case with Hill and Knowlton or Burson-Marsteller subsidiaries, which, at least carry the parent company's name.

Peter Gummer, Shandwick's chairman, speaking at the 1989 IABC international conference in New Orleans, La., had identified the problem, and by October 1990 he had begun to do something about it when 150 of the company's top executives assembled in Singapore. The overall intent of the meeting was to help set the company's culture and introduce the principal players in Asia/Pacific, Europe and North America.

In addition to those top-level cultural exchages, Shandwick developed regional training sessions for mid-level account managers.

"We conclude five sessions a year in North America for account executives and supervisors," says Mike Carberry, managing director of Shandwick North America, describing the training being delivered to employees in the North American region.

"We spend three intense days in a North American city covering such topics as client relationships, developing creativity, financial management and others."

One of the added advantages, says Carberry, is that people get exposed to the cultures of other professionals in other Shandwick companies.

The first of these mid-level sessions was held in Greenwich, Conn. in September 1990; the most recent was in February in Chicago, III.

While mid-level training is conducted primarily on a reginal basis, Carberry says, "Shandwick's culture is fast developing and it is more international than national." He says word from Chairman Gummer to general managers throughout the company has been to let good people move around the Shandwick system.

Carberry's Washington, DC office publishes a monthly newsletter for all Shandwick North America employees showing job vacancies system-wide.

Shandwick currently has only 25 to 30 expatriate employees, but the numbers is likely to grow with the chairman's emphasis on the value of cultural cross-fertilization.

Master's Degree by Mail

Another facet of Shandwick's training program involves sponsorship of a correspondence course through Scotland's University of Sterling. Currently 40 Shandwick people are working toward a master's degree in public relations.

Kathy Karliner, a Golin/Harris (Shandwick subsidiary) employee in New York recenlty began the three-year course. She was selected by Shandwick to participate and is the only American enrolled. She says the course has a strong international focus.

In her first quarter of study she wrote two papers, did extensive reading from literature provided by the school, and "considerable outside reading." In June she travels to Scotland to participate in the residence program, which involves one week each year for faculty and students to discuss cases face to face.


Expatriate Push

One of Burson-Marsteller's training goals is to "get junio people out and around the system," according to Greg Waldron, human resources director, worldwide.

He describes an "expatriate push" aimed at getting B-M people--wherever they are--to think beyond the boundaries of their own country.

The expatriate push involves relocating B-M employees outside their native countries in greater numbers than ever before. According to Waldron, the target age for expatriates these days is 27, down from 37 previously. The reason is simple: Younger people are less encumbered with family and worldly goods, so it's significantly cheaper to move someone younger. Also, says Waldron, they seem to benefit more from the experience.

"It's not so much a matter of trying to achieve lifestyle and salary parity, but more of a job transfer," Waldron says. That concept works better with employees in the early stages of their careers. Trying to duplicate the lifestyle of a family of four in another country gets downright pricey.

Currently about 100 expatriates work for B-M, and Waldron expects that number to grow. Also, to increase its intercultural mix, B-M is hiring more people with multicultural backgrounds.

B-M's overall training goal is to better handle the quality control function worldwide. While it boasts the longest history of a formalized training program among the Big Three--dating back 15 years or so--the program focused on a core curriculum of basic courses in writing, editing and financial management.

Now B-M is broadening and adding to that program by moving training "up-market" to the key disciplines: corporate communication, marketing and public affairs. And, they are working to codify those disciplines.

Waldron explains B-M is heading toward "a system to keep track of how people have done, and how they have done it.

"This year," he says, "we are starting with a small number of people--extremely high-potential people. We plan to track them through a highly specialized professional development program which will involve frequent evaluations and assessment. This model will help us determine how we will further refine our training."

The major firms are committed to training the employees they have rather than hiring away skilled people from competitors, as had been the practice in the 1980s. What's different is that training isn't just in the basics, for the beginners. It includes mid- and even upper-level employees. It's expensive, and what if the person leaves with all that new knowledge? That's a cost and a risk the Big Three seem willing to take. The alternative would be to have a giant organization with incredible capacity, but no qualified people to run it. And the international public relations firm of the '90s can't be run by graduates of the old school.

The practice of public relations used to revolve around the practitioner's home turf with an occasional out-of-town junket, but that isn't the case today, and it will be even less so tomorrow. While yesterday's communicator had no pressing need to know much of what was happening outside the city limits--much less national borders--now a manager needs to know languages, cultures and methods of doing business much different from those he or she grew up with.

The term expatriate conjures up visions of a bearded poet in the '50s sipping cheap wine in a dark Parisian Left Bank bistro. In the '90s, the term may well come to describe the high-potential public relations person on his or her way to a top job at one of the world's major firms.
COPYRIGHT 1991 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:international public relations training
Author:McGoon, Cliff
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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