Interview | 09 Jan 2017

Training for changing times

Posted in PR and Communications, Industry news, Top tips, Tools & Advice,

Henshall Centre has been supporting the PR and Communications industry with high-quality, up-to-date and immersive training experiences since 1988. To celebrate the launch of its new website and course program for 2017, we caught up with Liton Ali, the center's Training Director.

You must have seen some huge changes in the PR and Communications industry. What do you predict will be the key areas of growth in the future and what courses do you offer too meet these changes?

Although a lot of things have changed dramatically, the essence hasn’t. In 1988, we were helping people learn how to tell stories that affect opinion and influence behaviour - we’re doing the same thing now, but have more sophisticated techniques and channels. Our computers are a bit smaller too.

Now that PR people see content marketing as their domain, they’re focusing on connecting with the public again instead of the press. PR people are becoming more interested in using research and seem to concentrate on understanding audiences more than they used to.

Most of our clients still anticipate measurement to be the biggest skills gap in the next few years. Now the Advertising Value Equivalent era is over; there’s a lot of confusion about what PR should use and even more about what we can realistically use for measurement and evaluation.

Over the years, we’ve updated all of our courses as we’ve learned more about digital measurement, so if you come to a strategy course, you’ll find meaningful objectives, measurement and evaluation are at the core. We’ve completely redesigned our PR measurement and evaluation course and recruited a new coach.

Your courses take the form of 'immersive workshops', what does this involve and why do you find it most effective for learning?

Long lectures supported by bullet points are banned because people don’t learn much from them. Learning needs to be enjoyable and one-day workshops need to be focused on giving learners simple ways to change and improve the way they work.

Our workshops are designed around how people’s brains learn most efficiently. We blend theory into activities and design problems that help people learn by themselves and with others.

Do you also offer online courses? What areas do these cover and how do you deliver these?

Our first online courses will launch in May this year, breaking down modules from our standard courses - PR skills, content marketing, writing, and presentations initially. We’re producing these at the moment, and some of our clients are getting involved alongside the actors, designers, animators, and other production people.

Too much online training, whether it’s live or on-demand, replicates the PowerPoint-led lecturing we know doesn’t work. We’ve spent the last year or so designing a system that reproduces aspects of our live workshops. Learners will be able to choose their journey through any course rather than go through a list of video chapters. You’ll play games, interact with videos, watch sketches and role plays, take quizzes, complete assignments and even work with one of our coaches.

We feel it is particularly important as a freelancer, that you invest in training to ensure your skills are kept up to date. How do you currently cater for these professionals?

Freelancers automatically get a 20% discount to make training more accessible. I’ve spent most of my career as a freelancer - trying to stay up to date was exhausting, and it’s hard to know what’s good advice when you’re always searching for authoritative material. So access to structured courses dealing with specific needs is crucial.

Freelancers often miss out on social learning - learning from the experiences, stories and ideas of people in similar situations. We’ll be including guided discussions in our online learning which will help people solve specific problems and find inspiration from other Henshall Centre learners.

We also launched a coaching service last year, so freelancers can book one of our coaches for face-to-face or remote sessions to help with the business aspects of freelancing, such as finding new business and finance issues.

How can businesses, whether brands or agencies, benefit from professional PR training? Does your course content and delivery differ for these types of clients?

We’ve got role-specific courses for agencies; our latest is ‘The Effective Account Executive’ which helps professionals get to grips with managing their workload, while giving them processes and tips for the most important aspects of their job.

What’s the future for the Henshall Centre and what new courses will we see in the future?

Henshall Centre has always been about responding to the challenges our clients are facing. Last year, clients asked us to offer some shorter sessions that help teams improve skills gradually, so we’re launching ‘Learn at Lunch’. We turn up to a client’s office with a 50-minute workshop focused on a particular issue such as ‘How to write brilliant headlines’.

We’ve teamed up with Henshall Centre to offer our members and clients a 30% discount on all 2017 courses that run from the 25th Jan onwards. Simply email us to claim your discount code, and book before 15th February.

Plus, you can read more about raising standards in the PR and comms industry in our interview with Steve Miller; Director of Memberships and Partnerships for the PRCA in London.


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