Do you consider yourself lifelong learner? I didn’t always see myself that way. Yet when I look back, I realize I started my own personal academy 10 years ago around the time I co-founded my agency. And it began with two things: accreditation and Counselors Academy.

1. Professional accreditation
I’d never formally studied PR and felt I should have an understanding of communications theory and the history of our profession. So I jumped in, not thinking about how much effort goes into preparing a strategic case study and studying for a three-hour written and one-hour oral exam. But I persevered and was thrilled to earn my APR, which, by corollary opened my eyes to two-way symmetrical communication, a foundation of social media.

2. PRSA Counselors Academy
Counselors Academy is an organization dedicated to the business of PR and made up of smart, creative and outgoing agency owners and leaders who openly discuss their firms – the good and the bad – and offer valuable insights and ideas. Counselors is where I learned about social media – at a breakfast roundtable under the scorching Arizona sun during its annual conference. Communications and digital strategist Giovanni Rodriguez patiently tried to explain these newfangled things called blogs, wikis and RSS feeds. That morning pointed me on a fresh path beyond the tried and true and into the realm of social and digital PR. (Disclosure: I’m the chair-elect of the organization.)

Both experiences challenged my status quo and reenergized me in ways I would have never imagined.

How can you develop your own personal academy?

Here are four tips to get started:

1. Make self-education a state of mind – first off and regardless of whether you’re old or young, try something new that both scares the crap out of you and entices you at the same time. Give it a chance even if you don’t take to it right off the bat.
2. Curate your conferences – make sure you choose them based on the content and people. Because in addition to the knowledge you’ll gain, you’ll meet some amazing colleagues. And yes, I know there’s a tendency to want to party all night and there’s nothing wrong having a good time. Just make sure you balance it with a little education on the side.
3. Tap your network – I was always a big reader but today I consume way more information from a wider source of publishers thanks to all the posts and links my network shares on social media. And it’s a two-way street, the more times you share, the more you’ll get back.
4. Go formal – many people like a more formalized approach to training whether at work or from a post-secondary institution. The key again is to pick something that challenges you and helps you achieve your goals. I hope you don’t mind a plug for the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies Digital Strategy Certificate I developed.

It’s not easy to shift gears. Back when I was doing my PR accreditation, I grumbled to my wife about the extremely dry text we were ‘forced’ to read and how it put me to sleep because it was so darned theoretical. And my wife gave me a wonderful bit of advice. ‘Think like a student,’ she said.

However, she didn’t say I should act like one too :).

What other things do you do to establish your own academy?

A version of this post was originally published in Marketing Magazine.

About Martin Waxman

Martin Waxman conducts social media and online crisis training workshops, is a digital and communications strategist and speaks at events across North America. He's the co-founder of three PR agencies, president of a consultancy and has worked in the industry for over 25+ years. Martin is a LinkedIn Learning and author, teaches digital strategy and social media at University of Toronto SCS and Seneca College, and is a past-chair of PRSA Counselors Academy.

7 thoughts on “Training, networking and developing your personal academy

  1. RobBiesenbach I know what you mean. I haven’t seen the exam in a while so I’m not sure how well they’ve integrated social and digital. But the foundations are always good.

  2. RobBiesenbach Thanks Rob. I think I’m like you in this regard too. But I have to say doing the APR opened my mind to more formal learning and I haven’t looked back. If you do decide to pursue yours, let me know – I’m happy to share my experiences and what I gained from it (knowledge as opposed to financial rewards).

  3. KensViews Absolutely, Ken. I’m so glad  you mentioned that. guess I thought I implied that in point 4 – because having an external coach/trainer who can customize the experience to your needs can be a great way to go. And now my disclosure – I conduct social media training for organizations and brands. Thanks!

  4. Let’s not forget the value of bringing in an external trainer. They can share with an agency department, account group, or staffers at a similar title level, valuable knowledge and wisdom based on experience, as well as an external perspective. In addition, they often bring the consultant affect, where they can effectively drive home critical points that agency management/leadership wishes to reinforce, by the very fact that they aren’t part of that leadership, lending them added credibility. Disclosure: I’m a trainer for agencies…and I found what I stated above to be true when I was in the agency business.

  5. Interesting points, Martin. I consider myself a lifelong learner, but I’ve never been big on “formal” learning. Even in college, where I actually did well. But I much preferred the things I was learning working on the school paper over how I was learning in the classroom. So doing is one other way of learning. Then there’s teaching. I’m learning so much by creating lessons for others. But maybe I’ll go back for that APR someday …

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