Paul Holmes 27 May 2001 // 11:00PM GMT
When it opened its doors in 1985, Brodeur Worldwide set out to create a true “learning culture,” where employees could sharpen their existing skills and learn new ones with the support of agency management. The grassroots knowledge sharing “brown bag lunch and learns” of Brodeur’s early days have since grown into a formal, curriculum-based commitment to Professional Development (PD).
Brodeur’s approach to PD has been to foster the ongoing growth of an "umbrella" learning culture which encompasses core PR skills, communication skills, management skills, business skills, creativity and technology -- at all levels of the organization, in each of its U.S. offices, and through a variety of learning opportunities.
Such learning opportunities include workshops, regional and company-wide retreats, one-on-one counsel, the sharing of books, and broad PD-related employment benefits. Further, Brodeur recognizes that PD is essential to its success and builds into employee billability goals up to two hours per week for PD.
Drawing on the talents of several dedicated full-time Brodeur employees and a small group of trusted consultants, Brodeur Worldwide’s PD program is a comprehensive, centrally-managed collection of in-house training sessions, offsite retreats and educational activities that benefits every employee across Brodeur’s nine U.S. offices.
Beryl Loeb, founder and president of executive training firm The Loeb Group, has spent seven years (20 hours per week) on site at Brodeur’s Boston headquarters, designing, marketing, and leading myriad PD sessions. She is also available 24x7 for consultation. Each U.S. office is staffed with an appointed PD rep, who – via personal contacts with Loeb, the Boston office PD staff and the company’s Intranet – adapt template-driven PD session plans for local audiences. Brodeur’s PD staff is also supported by Margaret Coughlin, a consultant with 23 years of marketing communications experience. Coughlin takes Brodeur’s PD curriculum “on the road,” offering each Brodeur office a two-day visit each quarter and its pick of 14 PD topics.
PD sessions are also designed and taught by Brodeur employees with specific areas of expertise, and the materials created for these sessions (agendas, invitations, PowerPoint presentations, handbooks, exercises, etc.) are incorporated into the agency’s overall PD curriculum. Further, the same PD topics are offered by level (from entry level employees to mid-level managers to executive level training), meaning, for example, there are intermediate, advanced and expert courses in media relations. Brodeur schedules its PD sessions on a quarterly or six-month rotation, ensuring employees new and old alike have access. A small sampling of courses include:
Measurement & Planning
Teambuilding for Managers
Media Relations Role Play
Handling Difficult Conversations
Consumer Tech Trends
Writing (12 different topics)
The Business of PR
Brodeur’s PD efforts are now tied to annual performance reviews. This means managers are able to do more than simply tell employees that they need to sharpen a particular skill to grow in their career; with PD, Brodeur employees have direct access to the support they need to better their performance.
Like all PR agencies, Brodeur Worldwide is challenged by its clients to think more creatively. To meet this demand, Brodeur invests in regular Creative Workshops as part of its “PD umbrella.” Acclaimed corporate trainer Suzanne Merritt (a founder of Polaroid’s groundbreaking Creativity Lab) has for five years been a familiar face in and around Brodeur’s U.S. offices, where she designs and leads a number of programs that foster creativity among employees. The annual “Creative Expressions” employee art show, for example, lets employees display their photography, sculpture, writing and other skills. Some employees have staged dramatic readings; others have demonstrated fly-fishing techniques. The show helps employees in a growing company be seen as more than just “PR types,” inevitably sparking conversations, friendships and insight into the collective knowledge of the company. This “creative knowledge sharing” effort fosters cross-team cooperation, ultimately benefiting clients.
Also, a quarterly two-day retreat for a small group of employees in the wilderness in Essex, Massachusetts helps participants learn creative approaches to teamwork, brainstorming and techniques for “new ways of seeing.” These skills are directly applicable to problem solving on the job. Last year, Brodeur began replicating this Massachusetts-based retreat for employees at its other U.S. offices.
Brodeur’s commitment to enhancing employees’ creativity skills is further reflected by last year’s appointment of long-term Brodeur employee Jennifer McNally as “senior creatologist.” McNally splits her time between client service and working with Merritt to design, implement and evangelize creativity training throughout the company. McNally is also frequently asked to facilitate brainstorming sessions across the agency and is available for one-on-one creativity counseling.
As a high-tech PR firm, Brodeur Worldwide recognizes the critical need for having employees who are well-versed in the latest software systems. Brodeur’s Management Information Services department last year appointed a full-time corporate IT trainer to ensure all employees are highly-skilled in software systems, from MS Word and PowerPoint to Lotus Notes web-based tools like MediaManager, Lexis/Nexis and PRNewsire. Brodeur also pays full tuition for employees in need of specialized outside software training, particularly for web-development related software. Such a commitment to IT training is part of Brodeur’s culture and history. When the first commercial Web browser was released in 1995, the company created a billing code allowing billable employees to explore the Web two hours per week.
Brodeur CFO John Howard is an avid reader of business books and in early suggested the company provide employees at every level with best-selling business books to support or enhance their skills. Brodeur’s PD staff soon identified and purchased 20 different titles – 800 copies in all – and each employee received their first “BookSmart” gift book. New employees receive an appropriate title with their offer letter; existing employees get a new title with each promotion or annual review.
Four times a year, Brodeur employees meet off-site for a full-day corporate retreat. These retreats center around employee-facilitated break-out groups which tackle particular issues pertaining to the company, its clients and the PR industry in general. In recent years, corporate retreats have examined change (with mandatory reading of “Who Moved My Cheese,”) and customer service (with a look at the “Fish Philosophy,” which encourages creative approaches to customer service. Further, Brodeur’s senior management team regularly attends retreats to learn about the latest trends in business, technology and public relations – well as to share and study bast practices for management.
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT BENEFITS
Like most companies, Brodeur Worldwide supports the continuing education of its employees. For those not enrolled in a college or university setting, Brodeur makes available from this benefit $300 per year for the cost of purchasing job-related books or subscriptions. Also, the Professional Education Allowance may be applied to half of the cost of membership in a job-related professional organization.
At Brodeur, professional development is cultural glue, a reason to join the company and to stay, and a driving force behind client service excellence. Brodeur’s comprehensive PD program is how the agency helps its employees remain some of the smartest in the business, and for that reason we believe it is worthy of an Iron SABRE Award.