Notes from a Zoom call: virtual PR training during a pandemic

Alex Izza

19 October, 2020

COVID-19 has forced us all to adapt how we approach the fundamentals of our working life. Virtual is the new watchword of my career in 2020, as meetings, pitches for new business, and even the humble after work drinks all transition to Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Most recently, I encountered a staple of work that can be particularly tricky to be ‘virtual’: training sessions.

Training is an integral part of professional development, particularly for someone like me who has worked in PR for less than a year. It provides an invaluable opportunity to break out of the day to day, and reflect on your job – what is working? What common problems am I facing? How can I solve them?

Learning from afar

During September I attended two different virtual PRCA workshops; one covering ethics in PR, and the second exploring what it takes to be an account manager.

The pandemic has certainly created a diverse world of online training sessions. This is itself a testament to the agility of the event organisers and professional associations, who have adapted to ensure they can continue to deliver their valuable services to members.

My recent experience revealed there are certainly downsides to virtual. Perhaps the biggest is networking. Industry events and training days thrive on informal chats with peers, allowing exchanges of experiences and insights of life in PR. The inevitably more regimented structure of a day on Zoom deprives you of those little moments; a troubling loss for individuals early on the career ladder looking to build up their professional networks. There is also a certain threshold on the interactivity possible via Zoom, with video conferencing unable to truly recreate the ebb and flow of debate at an in-person event.

Nevertheless, the benefits far outweigh any limitations of virtual training days. My two training sessions demonstrated to me how important it is to stay engaged with the major trends shaping the PR industry. Remote working during the pandemic leaves us all at risk of getting stuck in a routine, not challenging ourselves to think differently as work becomes an all-consuming part of our lives. Training is that priceless opportunity to step back, hear from the thought leaders of our industry, and gain a few gems of best practice to take back to your job.

Lessons learned

Both sessions provided plenty of insights, examples and new approaches.

The session on ethics in PR and communication was a fascinating exploration of the importance of ethics for the sector, rich in practical examples of scenarios and responses.

I came away convinced that COVID-19 is a seismic moment that should compel us all to put ethics front and centre of business practice, making sure your organisation is in line with industry standards for everything – from how you treat your employees to interactions with the media on behalf of a client.

A week later, I attended an all-day event on being an account manager. This comprehensive session provided a formidable end-to-end guide about everything a person would need to fulfil this role. The host described the step up from Account Executive to Account Manager as “the biggest leap in your career” – as someone on that journey now I sat up a little straighter at this point!

The day made clear the range of responsibilities of an AM and provided a host of different pieces of advice; on prioritisation, do not allow yourself to be driven by urgency – always do the important tasks first.

AMs are expected to take a much bigger role in the running of the business. I really enjoyed the big-picture dimension of the day, particularly around moving from an agency to a consultancy mindset, and ultimately becoming a trusted adviser in the eyes of the client.

I went away firm in the knowledge that moving into a more senior role shouldn’t feel jarring or daunting. Every day you should be working and acting a rank above your own. It will make the transition easier when you are promoted (clients will already be relying upon you to a greater extent than your actual role), and by demonstrating excellence above your pay grade, it helps your bosses justify promoting you.

COVID-19 compels us all to the make the best of the difficult circumstances and continue to grow as professionals. By continuing to learn, we will emerge from this pandemic as more robust and well-informed practitioners of PR. One of the hosts of the virtual training sessions asked us all to say ‘I don’t know that yet’ instead of ‘I don’t know’. The message was learning should never stop. Well after my recent experience in the world of virtual training, the list of what I don’t know is certainly a little bit shorter.