EPIC Professional Development at JohnstonWells
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

EPIC Professional Development at JohnstonWells

JohnstonWells Public Relations has developed what we believe to be a potentially award-winning, proprietary, employee-focused career path and performance evaluation program.

Paul Holmes


JohnstonWells Public Relations has developed what we believe to be a potentially award-winning, proprietary, employee-focused career path and performance evaluation program.  Called EPIC Journey, the program is a competency-based approach to personal and professional development.  The program is built around 40 competencies that are identified as common among successful PR practitioners.  

While 15 of the competencies are designed to provide a core career path for the practitioner, there are also some 25 other PR-based “electives” that allow for flexibility in charting each individual’s career path.  New elective competencies are added as necessary based on feedback from employees and senior management.  Other sets of competencies are defined for such areas of specialization as investor relations, administration, accounting and information technology.

The name “EPIC Journey” is an acronym for JohnstonWells’ four corporate principles: Excellence, Partnership, Integrity and Commitment.  Additionally, EPIC Journey provides a useful metaphor for each employee’s carefully charted progression toward the achievement of his or her career and life goals.

We’ve also incorporated a creative way to recognize our employees as they make progress on their EPIC Journey by distributing colorful and whimsical  “totems” to all our staff that are displayed in their workspaces.  Each time they achieve a competency, they receive a “charm” symbolizing that particular competency.  We’ve included a photograph and a key chart with our supporting materials to further illustrate EPIC Journey.   



Recruitment and retention are two of the public relations industry’s greatest challenges, particularly in an agency setting.  An expanding economy, a tight labor market and encroachment from the technology and Internet sectors had resulted in an annual turnover in excess of 30 percent at even the most highly regarded public relations firms in the nation. These factors led JohnstonWells to explore innovative methods for addressing retention and recruitment.


While the practice of professional public relations requires competency in certain core areas, JohnstonWells believes that career paths can – and should – be tailored to the needs and interests of each employee.  The premise is simple; people who do what they love are happy and productive, and, as a consequence, are more likely to remain employed with a particular company.

With that in mind, EPIC Journey encourages people to choose their own career paths, as well as to take responsibility for their career growth.  And, not only does EPIC Journey allow for career advancement, but it also provides for increased earning potential because employees receive $500 added to their base salaries for each competency they achieve.


Following are the key concepts of the EPIC Journey program and how they are applied:

“Core” Competencies: Minimum “core” competencies are established for each titled staff level, of which JohnstonWells has five: Associate, Senior Associate, Counselor, Senior Counselor and Principal.  Additional competencies allow staff members to customize their career path by pursuing “elective” competencies or competencies in certain areas of specialization.

Performance Measures: Each competency is defined by a set of performance measures on which the staff member is rated.  (I think you need to say how you got these performance measures—key to this EPIC Journey and to the development of the program.)

Levels of Achievement: Three levels of achievement are defined for each competency: Adequacy, Command and Mastery.  “Mastery” of a competency is defined as “the ability to handle any level of assignment with excellence and to teach the competency to others with authority.”

Minimum Requirements: Staff members are expected to have mastery of the minimum competencies for their titled level, or to focus their energies on mastering these minimum competencies as a top priority. 

Baseline Assessment: A baseline assessment is conducted for each staff member to establish his or her status vis-à-vis the required or targeted competencies.  Baseline assessment for new employees occurs after 90 days with the firm.

MAPs: Following the baseline assessment, each staff member creates a Master Action Plan (MAP) to chart a course for achieving mastery of the competencies he or she has elected to pursue.  Mastery of a competency can take several years to achieve.  Consequently, MAPs include both short-term and long-term objectives for professional and personal development.

Methods of Gaining “Mastery”: Progress toward gaining mastery of a competency can be attained in a number of ways, including: experience on client teams, coaching, professional associations, and community involvement.

Supervisors’ Responsibilities: Staff members are responsible for their own career growth, but supervisors are expected to help by advocating, facilitating and supporting career growth.

Reviews: All staff members are formally reviewed for competency development twice each year.  Mastery can be achieved (and recognized and rewarded), however, at any time throughout the year.

Recognition and Rewards: When a staff member achieves “mastery” of a competency, recognition is given at a staff meeting, and $500 is added to the individual’s base salary.

Promotions: To be promoted to the next title level, staff members much achieve mastery of the minimum core competencies for that level, as well as two additional competencies.  These additional competencies can be for any level, including electives.


The concept behind EPIC Journey was developed at a staff retreat in late 1998, but the program was not introduced and implemented in its current form at JohnstonWells until mid-1999, with significant programmatic modifications occurring in 2000.
Since EPIC Journey was implemented at JohnstonWells, we’ve awarded approximately 260 competencies in total – including baseline assessments.  Just within the last year we’ve awarded approximately 45 competencies – which included salary increases – and announced six promotions, with additional promotions likely to occur in the next 30 days.  As a result, each of our employees is fully invested in the program and is encouraged to offer input on how the program can be improved upon.  Because of EPIC Journey we have witnessed increased job satisfaction and commitment from our staff members. 

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