Keep Calm And Keep Training: Our Guide To Upskill Your Teams


In December we conducted a survey with global marketers asking “what was keeping them up at night in the world of marketing”. We provided a range of options from marketing strategy, operations and capabilities to all things digital, data and tech related, as well as agency relations and fees. 

Based on the results, the number one worry was having the right team skills, followed in close second by having the right ways of working to achieve internal alignment. The top 4 results are highlighted below. 

Even in organisations where technical skills are considered high, there is still anxiousness about team capabilities. Key concerns we see revolve around leadership and managerial skills, the ability to think long term strategically, and to develop agile ways of working in order to keep pace with evolving business and consumer needs. Coming from a year of unprecedented challenges the results aren’t so surprising.   

One of the key areas we support marketers with is in conducting internal capabilities assessments. We do this through our  Skills Assessment Tool  which assesses marketers ability to “Know, Do, & Teach” and helps to inform and structure training programs that are needed by the team and the individual.   

Three challenges we often see in developing staff and team capabilities are:   

  • Insufficient budgets allocated to training  
  • Training programs heavily focused on technical skills but not beyond 
  • Nominal training for senior levels of staff  

What’s Driving this?

As our industry has become hyper focused on specialisms so have our training programs. This leads to staff being developed into vertical specialists vs offering more diversified training to broaden skillsets and foster career growth across disciplines. 

In the media world, training is often delivered by tech partners off the back of commercial partnerships. While this may be a cost-efficient approach to training, these forums tend to be more sales driven and provide just a one-sided perspective.  

Training budgets are also skewed towards junior to mid-level staff, with less training opportunities for senior staff. This is largely driven by the misconception that when you’ve reached a certain level of seniority, you’re somehow supposed to know everything, or will learn it through osmosis.  

Technical skills/training is also deemed less important at senior levels. This is partially true as senior leaders need to have a good working knowledge across a wide range of subjects vs being subject matter experts.  This said, the greater level of technical understanding that leaders can have across key disciplines, and the willingness and interest to learn, the more value they can add to their organization. 

Practical tips to help address training  

While Covid has unfortunately had a significant impact on budgets, with training in some organizations seen as a nice to have vs must have at this time, it’s critical that businesses continue to invest in their people.  If a culture of learning is not supported key talent will eventually leave, competitors will overtake, and business will suffer. Training therefore needs to be an inherent component of an organization’s sustainable business strategy. Put simply, if you’re not investing in your people you’re not investing in your future. 

A few suggestions on how to keep training in these challenging times… 

  1. In-house mentoring program  

We would start by recommending an in-house mentoring scheme where all levels of staff have the opportunity to be mentored by someone in their organization to include reverse mentoring opportunities (ie junior to senior/ senior to junior).  As many high profile business leaders have mentors, we would encourage all members of staff to have one, internal or external doesn’t matter, just as long as they have one.    

  1. In-house training  

Identify internal champions/experts on key technical as well as broader business subjects within your organization to develop an in-house training program. While we are advocates for external coaches and trainers as they can provide valuable outside-in perspectives, in-house training can save on cost. 

  1. Industry body training  

Tap into trainings offered by industry groups, which your company may be a member of such as ISBA, WFA, ANA, IAB, IAA, NABS, IPA. Some training courses offered for free or are at nominal cost such as speed mentoring sessions by the IAA or marketing courses offered by Cannes Lions provided by  

  1. Annual training bursary co-funded bespoke training 

Establish an annual training bursary as part of employee benefits, which staff can then use to their discretion based on their training needs. For senior staff where trainings may be more costly, consider co-funding opportunities. Encourage senior leaders to propose learning opportunities as part of their reviews, also those that are outside of their day to day role/responsibilities to provide new skills and perspectives.   

  1. Training partnerships  

Work with partners and suppliers to develop training initiatives that can benefit staff across businesses and help foster collaboration. Invite a range of organizations to share their expertise and knowledge across different areas of business. As an example, NGOs, social enterprises and charities focused on social and environmental issues can help foster diversity & inclusion practices and sustainable business strategies.  

  1. Redundancy & Continued Learning 

As redundancy has unfortunately been rife in our industry due to Covid, should you find yourself impacted by this, we would encourage you to discuss with your employer training opportunities as part of your exit arrangement.  As an example, maintaining your access rights to online trainings that your company may have a license to, so you can continue to enhance your skills in order to find new opportunities. Many companies are open to this, so it is worth inquiring.  

We hope this provides some practical thought starters on how to continue training in these challenging times and to help our industry come out stronger in the end.   

If you need any support in assessing your teams’ capabilities and identifying training requirements, or just an outside in perspective, please get in touch.