Sharpen Your Pencils, Adland; You're Going Back to School

More and More Agencies Feature In-house Lecture Series and Training Sessions to Keeps Staffers Sharp

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A number of shops have launched in-house lecture series that incorporate vendors and CMOs as well as artists, writers and musicians in the hopes of getting staffers energized and up to speed with the latest technologies and trends. As the kids are set loose for the summer, Ad Age takes a look at how some shops send their people "back to school" all year-round.

The format and timing for Cramer-Krasselt's "Lunch n' Learns" differ a bit from office to office, but the overall goal of continuing education is to cross-pollinate, having talent from different disciplines teach the rest of the agency. That way, PR execs learn about CRM, and digital producers learn about media-engagement strategies. Some sessions are hosted by integrated account teams offering a look at a new campaign from every angle, while senior execs host classes focused on building critical professional skills. Recent topics have included "Strategic Planning Through Behavioral Economics"; "The Art of Public Relations"; "Client Profiling and Media Buying 101"; and the "Future of Digital Television." Sometimes the agency looks to vendors such as Quattro Wireless (now Apple's iAd), Pointroll, Buddy Media, Vitrue, Facebook and Google to school employees on topics such as mobile and social media.

This Dentsu digital agency calls downloads on hot new digital topics "Bagels With Berky." This biweekly morning session will find 360i's senior director of emerging media and innovation, David Berkowitz, outlining the pros and cons on the latest in digital marketing from near-field-communication and digital couponing to interactive outdoor and Google 's new "like" button, +1. Maybe it's the free breakfast, but these sessions are usually standing-room only, the agency reports. The agency also hosts "Learning Academy," its ongoing curriculum of training sessions that , similar to C-K's, aim to cross-educate. Here, the agency's social strategists can attend sessions on search-engine optimization and designers can learn about mobile. That way, even specialists get a full view of all the digital work the agency handles. This week was "Mobile Week," with sessions on research, commerce and mobile sites vs. apps.

The idea for "Gravy Talks" was born after the office's management asked: "How does a famously effective agency walk, talk and behave?" They decided if they truly wanted to create a culture that embraced popular culture, they needed to create a venue to celebrate diversity of thought. And so, Gravy Talks was launched this past April, with Grey hosting three to four talks a month in the agency's Town Hall meeting space. The events are open to everyone at the agency. Staffers are invited to submit speaker suggestions and also have the opportunity to host or introduce the talk, to make it a more democratic experience. So far speakers have included Vi Hart, a recreational math-musician and YouTube sensation; publisher Bob Guccione Jr.; boy band Hanson, who gave an unplugged performance of some new songs and, of course, "MMMMBop"; and Nick Utton, the CMO of E-Trade, who shared details on what makes for a strong agency-client partnership and how to create breakthrough work (and whose account is parked at Grey ).

The WPP PR agency launched its most recent training program, "Digital Intelligence Series," to address increasing client demand for digital services, including channel-specific campaign recommendations, influencer engagement and long-term social-media strategy. Mandatory for its 1,000-plus employees around the world, the program features agency webcasts, with a focus on broad concepts and new digital trends; on-demand modules, featuring step-by -step video tutorials, comprehensive presentations and training materials; and "bold brown bags," which are in-person sessions conducted by each office, featuring local content, topics and guests. Recently, Suzanne Kantra of spoke on effective engagement with the blogger community in a session called "Mom Bloggers, Mommy Bloggers and Women Who Happen to Be Moms Who Blog;" Jeff Ragovin of Buddy Media shared the latest best practices on driving engagement on Facebook; and discussed how to fuse insights-driven positioning and web analytics for greater online impact.

Additionally, the agency kicked off a "Dinner and Dialogue" series to bring together corporate communications professionals twice a year to network and discuss the most pressing issues. The firm held the first event last month for about 20 leaders from top financial-services companies.

BBDO's Chicago office hosts a "Creative Salon" series, which is a more or less monthly informal discussion featuring someone from a creative industry outside advertising. Everyone the agency invites to speak is Chicago-based. Some have shared work that 's in-progress and talked about the challenges they're facing with it; some have read poems or shared art unseen by the public. The sessions are often open to the public as well, as is the case for the next Salon on June 23 with Cuban-born designer Carlos Segura. Speakers have included musician Andrew Bird, who walked the audience through the various tools and techniques he uses to create his music, and played a few of his songs; film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum; and Dan Sinker, former editor and publisher of Punk Planet, who recently made waves for coming out as the brains behind the satirical Twitter handle @MayorEmanuel.

McGarryBowen's "Spark Sessions," usually held twice a month, are meant to initiate conversation amongst the agency's various departments. Employees volunteer to talk about industry topics that interest them, such as new technology or consumer trends, and spend the first half of the session teaching the group what they know. The second half of the session allows others to contribute, debate and talk about related topics -- whatever they are "sparked" to contribute. Anyone can initiate a topic and past conversations have been centered on crowdsourcing, augmented reality and emerging technology. The agency also hosts a lecture series, or agency forum, wherein clients often share their category insight, experience, inspiration and brand/business vision with agency staffers. Speakers have included Mary Beth West, exec VP-chief category and marketing officer, Kraft; Tom Staggs, chairman-CEO of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts; Mike Perry, CEO of Crayola; Jamie Dimon, chairman-CEO of JPMorganChase & Co.; and Susan Thronson, senior VP-global marketing of Marriott International.

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Does your agency have a program like this? Let us know in the comments section.

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