Building a Development Program: A Cinderella Story
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Building a Development Program: A Cinderella Story

In less than a year, Benjamin Group’s (BG) Training & Development team (T&D) built a multi-layered development program for its 90 employees. Today that has become the backbone for the global development initiative of the world’s largest public relations c

Paul Holmes

In less than a year, Benjamin Group’s (BG) Training & Development team (T&D) built a multi-layered development program for its 90 employees. Today that has become the backbone for the global development initiative of the world’s largest public relations company, Weber Shandwick. T&D took a dismal orientation program and turned it into a captivating experience for new employees, produced a three day company-wide development conference rivaling any of its kind and grew a fledgling employee education program into a way of life for BG employees.




New Team: BG's T&D team had just been formed (Dec 2000), and two of the team members were new to the company.


Scattered Content: The existing instructor curriculum was inconsistent in style, depth and methodology. The majority of the student materials were unformatted and/or difficult to use/access.


No Past Marketing: The branding/marketing for the overall program was incomplete and inconsistent. In the past upcoming classes were simply announced via email with no supporting marketing efforts.


No infrastructure: No previous structure existed. There was no process or standard for developing a course. Records were inconsistent and incomplete, making it difficult to track past development efforts.


Time Constraints: T&D had tight deadlines for all of their projects. Orientation was to be completed in 45 days from the team's date of hire. A comprehensive training program for entry-level PR staff was to be presented to management by Q2, and the company’s development conference was already scheduled for mid-August. While managing all of these projects, T&D had to consistently deliver training courses to a diverse employee base.


Uncertain Future: T&D would be creating and implementing this multi-layered development program at a time when BG was still being integrated with its new parent company (BSMG), that was also merging with an even larger corporate entity (Weber Shandwick). The corporate infrastructure and culture in all of the organizations was fluctuating. The future of BG's culture, programs and benefits was uncertain.




Create an engaging, educational and enjoyable orientation program that communicates our core culture and history, facilitates relationships for a new employee, affirms the new employee's decision to join the agency and reduces the time it takes the new employee to become productive.


Design and market an employee educational program that continually builds the skill-set of all employees through a wide variety of development activities.


Build a development infrastructure that tracks course enrollments and training materials.


Develop an entry-level PR staff training program that teaches new PR professionals the inner-workings of account teams.


Create a department so valuable that the parent company would incorporate the development team and its programs into the larger organization.




T&D surveyed existing BG employees, asking their opinions of the past year in regards to employee education opportunities. Employees were asked if the courses offered were beneficial and worked within their daily schedule. They were given an opportunity to state what courses they would like to see the following year.


T&D conducted a full evaluation of the existing curriculum. Curriculum files from the past twelve years were gathered and sorted.  Each course was evaluated on whether it contained a presentation, handouts and instructor notes. A needs evaluation was conducted to determine what type of infrastructure needed to be created in order to track employees, courses offered, attendance, curriculum and marketing.




New Employee Orientation: T&D took a dry and mechanically delivered new employee orientation program, consisting of a mind-numbing, four-hour presentation on company policies and procedures, and turned it into an engaging multi-media training experience (see supporting materials).


Ongoing Employee Development: T&D brought structure and substance to a fledgling employee education program called Jammin'U (JU) that now boasts a solid core curriculum, strong brand recognition, inventive marketing collateral and a curriculum database that tracks every aspect of the program. Course requirements are now assigned to each job title in the agency (see supporting materials for course catalog, curriculum and marketing samples).


Account Team Bible: T&D developed an account staff “bible” for new PR professionals called Account Team Fundamentals. The multi-session training course provides an introduction to public relations and details the administrative functions of account teams (see supporting materials).


Public Speaking Program: T&D developed a public speaking program entitled “You Talk Good” to help employees improve their prepared and impromptu speaking skills (see supporting materials).


Development Conference: The team produced a three-day, off-site, company-wide conference called “The Summit” focused on development and teambuilding activities. The team created materials for over 80 attendees (binders, collateral pieces, etc.) as well as managed all budgets, scheduling, presentations, teambuilding events, receptions, meals and accommodations. T&D also produced a variety of video segments including opening and closing modules and segments highlighting client success stories (see supporting materials).


Performance Management: T&D managed BG's 360º performance management process (Pathfinder). T&D completely overhauled the overly complicated and time-sensitive process. For the first time employees received supplemental materials to help guide them in their professional development including a complete Jammin'U course catalog, a list of suggested courses tailored to individual positions, a personal Jammin'U course history and access to a database of external development opportunities (see supporting materials).




The new orientation program has been effective in instructing new employees on the company’s culture and history and improving employee retention. In 2000, 17% of the employees oriented through the old program chose to leave the firm within 11 months. In 2001, all of the new employees who experienced the new program remained with the company for at least 11 months.


Jammin'U bosted an attendance of 659 students and offered 115 classes in 2001. Each Benjamin Group employee attended an average of over seven classes for the calendar year. 


The offsite development conference met its goals of balancing learning, networking and fun while receiving rave reviews:

  • “…perfectly orchestrated, well-prepared, valuable content in a format that was well balanced.”
  • “…very well produced and ran so smoothly; content was well targeted to attendees.”
  • “…the best summit of the past six I’ve experienced.”


After viewing BG’s new orientation program, BG’s parent company (Weber Shandwick) selected T&D to create a global orientation program for Weber Shandwick (WS). The program will be used to orient new WS employees and over 3,000 existing staff on the history and culture of WS. After delivering the first draft of the global orientation program, Cinderella’s invitation to the ball arrived as Weber Shandwick asked the BG Training and Development team to help build and support all of the parent company’s ongoing training initiatives.
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