Agencies teach skill building

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As the ad slogan goes: A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

So to foster staffers' educational growth, DDB Worldwide and Young & Rubicam over the next month will launch agencywide career development tools. DDB University and Y&R's Buzz University disseminate information on agency offerings and philosophy--as well as provide job training through courses such as strategic planning and media management.

Both DDB University and Buzz University were designed to retain and nurture employees when Internet companies and management consultancies wave job offers.

"Talent is an agency's most precious resource. Without it, we would quickly die," DDB Chairman-CEO Keith Reinhard said in an internal memo introducing DDB University to top management.

The diversity offered at Y&R's Buzz University helped to retain antsy staffers about to jump to dot-coms, said BrandBuzz Managing Director John Partilla.


DDB's new program--18 months in the making--combines old-school and new-media education techniques. Some of the courses have an open enrollment, while others are by invitation only. Courses are available on CD-ROM, through the agency's intranet and via old-fashion lectures. DDB funds the university by requiring each of its offices to contribute a little over 2% of their salary budget to pay for the courses. Raquel Suarez and Susan Gillette head the university as director and dean, respectively.

DDB's new effort follows on the heels of clients that have embraced in-house training, Ms. Suarez said. In fact, more than 1,600 companies now have corporate university programs, according to consultancy Corporate University Xchange. In 1988, that number was 400.

Graduating from these classes doesn't guarantee a pay raise or promotion, but Ms. Suarez, who handles development and implementation of the courses, said her program will enable staffers to be more competitive.


"This will help our people be at the cutting edge," she said. "They'll develop skills and points of view about business treatments and what we can offer clients." There are, however, some perks beyond educational value: DDB holds a few of its courses outside its offices, in alluring locations such as Barcelona, Miami and Paris, and individual offices pay their employees' travel expenses.

Ms. Suarez hopes DDB staffers will take the initiative to attend virtual and on-site courses, adding, "We're not prescribing that you do this on your own time-it should not be thought of as a separate activity."

Y&R's educational program enables staffers to gain hands-on knowledge about the broad variety of specialties the agency offers. At Buzz University, staffers are placed in an intense cross-disciplinary program. Every three to four weeks, an estimated three dozen employees are removed from their everyday duties and cycled in to learn other disciplines with Y&R's diversified BrandBuzz unit.

BrandBuzz is composed of managers from specializations including media, Internet and public relations who collaborate to service clients such as Colgate-Palmolive Co., Kraft Foods and Citigroup.

"Y&R's philosophy has always been about integration," Mr. Partilla said. "But now we're ingraining it much earlier in the game--at a more fundamental part of people's careers."

Also on the integration education front, J. Walter Thompson Co. launched its Specialized Communications University in February. The SCU program is disseminated to staffers through the agency's intranet and offers classes such as "Media Muscle" and "Power Point Pizzazz."

Tim Gibbon, president-CEO of J. Walter Thompson Specialized Communications, said it's vital that agencies offer staffers areas of growth within the agency environment or employees will seek it at another company.

"It's a retention tool," he said, adding that it's also a way to improve an employee's skills set. "We want them to improve here rather than somewhere else," he said.

Jeanne Meister, president of Corporate University Xchange, said employees are embracing the idea of broadening their skills at work.

"Because there is so much turnover in companies, employees are much more aware that they have to build their skills," she said. "You no longer get the resistance of `Who wants to do that?'; instead, [staffers say,] `This is what I need to help my career.' "

For agencies, a top benefit of in-house education is that they become more competitive through smarter staffers.


GSD&M, Austin, Texas, launched its Idea University three years ago with the intent of educating staffers about the agency's various disciplines.

"Part of Idea U's goal is that everybody in the agency understands how and why everybody does their job," said Communications Director Eric Webber, adding that the program "sparks people to help our business as a whole.

"Just because someone is in the media department doesn't mean they couldn't help our business in other ways," Mr. Webber added.

Idea University also brings in guest speakers who may not give advice about a specific discipline but instead offer input on general career growth.

Bozell Worldwide offers a variety of classes through its Close to the Customer Academy.

"It's a chance to learn something new and meet people in other departments," said Jerry Sherwin, senior partner-professional development at Bozell. He added that the learning experience also gives staffers some "downtime away from their phones, away from the desk." Bozell offers the bulk of its courses during lunchtime, and the agency also serves food for attendees.


Bozell's Academy has mandatory classes on the agency's history and philosophy--but also offers other, more general electives--such as classes on stress management and conflict resolution.

"I can't tell you how quickly everybody jumped on that," said Lynn Gassert, director of broadcast traffic, and a perennial pupil at Bozell's Academy.

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