Employee Training: Programs Vary But Common Threads Abound

Make no mistake, employee training is big—not only a big undertaking, but a big part of corporate America. Consider that this year training expenses in the U.S. added up to nearly $53 billion, according to Training magazine.

With such investment on a large scale, PR News decided to go granular and investigate three lauded employee training initiatives that take different approaches—two from PR agencies and one corporate program. While these initiatives may be different, they all have something in common: All stress the close alignment of training with business and employee goals.



New York-based PR agency Makovsky + Company’s training program, Mak University, is chock-full of workshops and seminars, and also includes personal coaching. The mandatory program covers all levels of communicators at the agency, says Steve Seeman, the agency’s senior VP and director of human resources, though its core is geared toward junior and midlevel staff.

The fact that Makovsky is a midsize agency allows it to have the best of both training worlds, says Seeman. “While we have enough staff to fill our classes, we preach one-on-one coaching, and our size is perfect for that,” he says. This philosophy led to Makovsky winning an Iron Sabre Award for best employee program in 2009.

Like all the programs we explored, PR education at Makovsky is aligned with employee performance goals, and employees must take a certain percentage of courses to meet those goals, says Seeman. Therein lies a challenge: “It’s a fact that people are busy with clients during the day, but if you don’t take the training, development suffers,” he says.

That’s why Seeman feels it’s important set a schedule of classes at the beginning of the year, so employees can block out time in advance. And the curriculum is comprehensive. Topics include press releases tips, presentations, social media networking, viral videos, crisis comms and more.

Seeman’s tips for an effective training program include:


Cover core skills. “Don’t assume because you’re a firm that does media pitching that everyone is an expert,” says Seeman.

Set up a system that’s a priority. Make it part of the review process.

Measure it, with post-class surveys that grade the subject matter and the lecturer.



With some 12,000 total employees in the U.S. and abroad, financial services company Vanguard goes about training a bit differently than Makovsky.

Vanguard’s training motto, says Tamara Ganc, senior manager of Vanguard University, is to enable great learning at the point of need. “Anytime, anyplace, any method, any pace,” says Ganc. In that vein, Vanguard must be doing something right: It earned the No. 3 spot on Training’s 2010 Training Top 125 list.

About half of Vanguard’s curriculum is offered online, and Ganc is working to increase that number.

Because of the company’s size, technology is a big part of Vanguard University. In 2009 Ganc led the implementation of a new portal, “My Learning,” which allows crew members to receive learning recommendations based on data from HR that includes development goals, career interests and content relevant to their jobs.

Measurement is a big component of the program, says Ganc, and a key metric is one widely used by consumer marketers: the net promoter score. Post-class surveys ask the question, “Would you recommend this class to another crew member?” The promoter score is based on the responses. “Our goal is to raise those scores, which we track and review every month,” says Ganc. (See the sidebar for Ganc’s tips for training success.)



At PR agency Warschawski, instruction generally goes on all day, says David Warschawski, the Baltimore-based agency’s CEO and founder. “We ingrain training into everything we do,” he says, conjuring the idea of a teaching hospital.

The agency’s Warschawski University bases curriculum on what the employees ask for. SEO was a recent lunchtime topic, taught by a senior level exec. In addition, Martini Marketing events bring outside experts together privately with employees and then later in the day at a public venue to talk about key PR issues.

But Warschawski is most proud of his internship program called Assistant Associate. “Most agencies don’t spend a lot of time with interns,” he says. “AA’s become real team members, [who] do real work and are part of account teams.” As a result, interns that go through the program often land jobs with well-known agencies.

In all three programs PR News investigated, a couple of concepts stood out: commitment and camaraderie play big roles in training initiatives. PRN



Steve Seeman, sseeman@makovsky.com; Tamara Ganc, tamara_l_ganc@vanguard.com; David Warschawski, david.warschawski@warschawski.com.

Business Goal Alignment Key to Employee Training Success

Financial services company Vanguard closely monitors the professional development of its 12,000 employees. “The better trained our crew is, the better we’ll be able to retain clients, and the better off our bottom line will be,” says Tamara Ganc, senior manager of Vanguard University. Her tips for implementing an effective training program include:

Align program to business goals. Vanguard has an advisory board to help formulate its learning strategies. The head of Vanguard’s marketing and communications is a board member.

Make sure classes are engaging. With the new generation on Facebook and into video gaming, says Ganc, “it’s got to be interesting or you’ll lose them.”

Leverage the power of the workforce for information. Most companies are filled with subject matter experts. Use social media and collaboration tools to enable them to communicate with each other.