MediaCom Earns OMCP Agency Of Excellence Award for Exam Pass
MediaCom, a leading agency based in
the UK, already had the digital marketing expertise to service
clients within the agency. Always looking to improve their service,
they identified an opportunity to broaden overall digital
capability across and between departments by increasing individual
digital knowledge at all levels. Their training goal was to create
better internal communication and deliver more effective and
creative marketing solutions to meet their client objectives.
96% Pass Rate
Results were spectacular. In 2016, MediaCom achieved a 96% pass
rate on online marketing certification exams after training for
over 500 staff in partnership with Circus Street.
2016 OMCP Agency of Excellence Winner: MediaCom's training team
with Emma Johnson (center, holding award)
Key differentiators for
MediaCom's program include:
Significant management buy-in and
support of the training commitment
League competition between departments
Clear metrics set ahead of time
Pre-tests before learning modules
Outsourced, up-to-date training curriculum
L&D team has knowledge of digital marketing
Treat participants as adults with respect to training time
Mobile and online access to training
OMCP's Michael Stebbins interviewed Emma Johnson Head of Learning
& Development at MediaCom to learn how the program achieved its
congratulations on your award. Before we dive into how you and the
team achieved it, can you tell our audience a bit about your
background and the scenario for the training?
The L&D Team
Emma Johnson, Head of Learning
& Development at MediaCom
Emma: Right, okay. So
I've been at MediaCom for 16 years. I've been learning and
development for 12 years. And in this office, we look after about
1,100 people. About 900 of those people are London people who fall
directly within my remit. And then we also have another 300, 400
people who are part of our local and global teams who fall
indirectly in my remit.
So about 500, 600 people are in
client-facing roles. These are the people that meet the skill
development piece that we've been working on around digital
knowledge and digital expertise.
OMCP: And your
background is in creating training programs or bringing people up
to speed. Is it more from academic or more from corporate?
Emma: It's all
corporate. So actually I'm in my second career now. So initially I
was a planner. So I worked in the main business, running accounts.
So I did the job that the people I'm now training and helping with
learning interventions for. And then about 13, 14 years ago I
started to transition across into an L&D role. So all my
experience has been in a corporate environment.
OMCP: Have you
attained any formal training for how to do this or is it something
you just kind of had a knack for?
Emma: Well, some of
it was intuitive and I'm also a qualified coach. And I've done lots
of trainer trainer type cases of development work myself. So I
train and coach people, so I'm also able to..but also because of my
experience in the business itself, I understand what these people
are doing and I understand the pressures and the skills gaps that
exist. So that actually, it's quite a useful backdrop in being able
to design and implement learning interventions in people.
OMCP: So typically
the training that you're providing, my guess this is that digital
marketing is just a part of that?
OMCP: Can you
describe your support team? Is it you and that's it? Or do you have
a group who help you, a producer, LMS development? Who do you
Senior management buy-in
Understand your audience's
Emma: So I'm part of the wider HR team. So I
have resource I can draw on from the HR team. So Circus Street, who
have been our partner in this particular learning initiative, are
an external partner. So they provide an LMS essentially, a digital
skills LMS. We have our own formal LMS activity as well. And then I
work with key stakeholders in the business in terms of how we
develop and land some of these things. And that's largely behind, I
guess, the success story of the [training provider] Circus Street
activity. We've had fantastic partners with Circus Street. And then
we've had absolute key drivers within the business who are working
in the business to land this stuff and make it, kind of, fly,
OMCP: You have
cooperative managers and a good vendor.
Emma: Yes. Basically,
that sums it up in a nutshell. Absolutely.
OMCP: So let's talk about this specific program.
And often times these programs are either driven by senior
management where they come to you and they say, "Emma, this is what
we need to achieve," or you get it from the internal where the
staff or the managers are saying, "We need to develop these skills.
Give us money and resources." Or it comes from the L&D. Did I
hit one of them there or was it a different scenario that led up to
Emma: I think it's a
combination of all those things. But missing an element as well in
terms of, you know, MediaCom's clients saying, "We need some of
this innovation. We need to see more work in this area, in the
digital area." So management is certainly saying, "This is huge
quickly. This is why we built skills for the future and make sure
that everybody's future-proof for their roles." And then confidence
from the teams themselves in saying, "Actually, this is all the
stuff we know that we should be doing but we don't yet feel like we
know enough about it. So it's good to have something that helps us
to know more about that." And then L&D being able to take a
step back and look at that and set out, "Look, there's these gaps
going on here and we need to find something that fills those gaps
OMCP: Then it's
combination of concert, everybody cooperating. If you were to give
advice to somebody who is new to the L&D role, maybe for a
smaller or corporate group, what advice would you give somebody
before putting together a program like this in the initial
Emma: Good question.
I guess as with any kind of learning piece is, "What are you trying
to solve?" What actually are you trying to solve has got to be your
starting point. And actually, what are the skills you need today?
What are the skills you're gonna need in three or five years time?
What currently exists, what doesn't exist, and how do you meet
those needs in the middle? So I guess that would be my starting
point for anything is what is going to be meaningful in terms of
the way these people are able to do their jobs both now and in the
future? Because there's no point in training somebody for tomorrow
because you're going to have a piece that just keeps having to
evolve and develop. You've got half an eye on the future, but you
can't design any kind of learning intervention unless you know what
you're trying to solve.
Time for Training
OMCP: Fair enough. Oftentimes when we have staff
on billable hours, it's a big fight between billable hours and time
allocated for training. How did you approach that?
And we give them time off to study for
the exam because that now seems to be an industry standard.
Emma: Well, and that's why we had a great
training vendor, I guess, is because they have a product that is
available via PC, mobile app. So there's lots of different touch
points. We have multiple departments across the business, and so
there is no one size fits all. So we created the learning that was
relevant and specific to particular teams and we said, "You've got
access to this in any way that suits you."
So, MediaCom is a youthful agency.
We've got lots of Gen Y and younger in the organization. They're
not used to receiving training in the way that maybe you or I might
be used to receiving training, where we might sit in a room and
have some formal classroom training. That prescriptive and it's
within certain confines and hours.
So we opened this up into an
interactive experience, something that they could do when it suited
them in their own time, in their own way. So they could do it
remotely, they could do it in the office, however they needed to do
And we made sure that the learning was
broken up into bite-sized chunks. They didn't have to allocate
three or four hours at a time, they could just do little bits as
and when they could create that time in their day. So they didn't
have to even do a whole module at a time. They could literally do
10 minutes, pause it, and then when they came back it would pick up
again from where they left off. So it gave them the control and the
responsibility and the accountability about how their learning
OMCP: Emma, you said
"during their day." Is that a policy or an expectation that your
staff learn only during working hours or do you just leave it up to
the staff? If they want to study at home and on the weekends it's
up to them? Do you allocate time in the paid day?
Emma: Well we work
from the premise that these are adults and so they have to decide
for themselves how they want to do this. If they have time in their
working day, by all means, do it in their working day. So some of
them will. You know, the mantra of modern life is everybody's busy
all the time. But in reality, people have some downtime. So, by all
means, use that to do some learning. By and large these guys
probably want to do it on a commute. They're on a train, they're on
a bus. They can access it then. Sometimes they prefer to do it at
home. It's entirely up to them. We treat them as adults and we let
them decide actually when is the best time for them to do this. And
I think that's been some of the reason why we've had good traction
is because we haven't tried to fit a square peg in a round hole and
say, "You must do it in this way." Instead we say, "Use your own
intuition about what suits you. But we do need you to complete this
within these time frames."
Our CEO recorded a message to the
OMCP: But conversely some groups will say, "You
get three hours a week protected time during paid hours to study."
Is that not something that you chose to do?
Emma: We didn't
because we're not structured that way. We work in a very
service-orientated business and so we don't know when the client's
going to ring and say, "This has to be turned around in two hours."
If those two hours happen to clash when we say well, that's when
you're doing your learning time, there's an instant conflict there
to people and they're not quite sure how to resolve that for
themselves. And so for the different programs, we have taken
different approaches. We run a certificate with our industry body
for our entry-level joiners. And they have six online modules and
then they have an annual exam at the end of it. And we give them
time off to study for the exam because that now seems to be an
industry standard. But people going through this program, in
particular, tended to be a bit more experienced. It was
counterproductive for us to try and tell them when they had to fit
How to Get Top Results
OMCP: So Emma, amazing pass rates for the online
marketing exams. 96%. . Walk us through some of the factors that
you think caused that.
Emma: So we had a bit
of a dummy run at this, to be honest, and learned from our
OMCP: That's the best
We're going to give you every piece of
support that we can give you to make you the best version of
yourself that you can be in terms of doing the best job that you
Emma: Exactly. So we had a soft launch of the
certification training originally. And so we had a set number of
licenses that we bought. And so there was a name allocated to each
license and then we asked those people to go and complete the
learning. We very quickly learned that the appetite for the
training was outside the people who'd been allocated a license and
so we converted licenses into learning hours. So we just had a wide
number of learning hours and so it's like a countdown against the
learning hours. And where we'd had a soft launch to say, "This is
available to you. This is what we need you to do," initially that
didn't work terribly well. So then we had a relaunch.
Our CEO recorded a message to the
participants to give context to what the learning was, why it's
important to our business, what was in it for the learner, what it
would help them to do, how it would improve, you know, their
performance in their job, how it would improve their performance
And so we gave it a whole
contextualized piece about where this sat for us and why it was
such an intrinsic part of their development activities. We worked
with Circus Street, our external training partner, to learn that.
They came in and we divided people up by department. So Circus
Street came in and presented, they had a demo of the curriculum and
how to use it. We had a video from the CEO and then we had these
learning parts that we introduced to everybody. And then we gave
them access to the site. And in each of those departments, we
created a champion. So it was somebody who was, kind of responsible
for that department. So on a weekly basis, we have reports coming
through. They're sent to myself and all the champions across the
departments and the senior leadership teams that says…so it had a
slightly competitive element.
So, you know, one department didn't
really want to be beaten by another department in terms of
participation and learning rates. So we set people up with a, "You
need to have done this many hours within time frame. And this is
your learning path." And then we had this, kind of, league table,
if you like, that went on with this ongoing piece of communication,
both from the champions, from us at an L&D perspective, and
from the external provider. All of us talking to these groups of
people on an ongoing basis, asking for their feedback and then kind
of, you know, reacting accordingly to make sure the people were
understanding what was expected of them, how they were going to fit
it in, what they were going to do with it.
So each piece of the learning was
broken down into a pre-test, the learning, and a post-test. So then
we saw these very high spikes in exam pass rates because people
were focused on actually, "What do I need to know about this
subject? And this is how it relates to my job, my delivery, my
performance, my expertise."
OMCP: Okay. You
mentioned that you used the pre-tests. How did that work?
Emma: We were very
focused on the idea that there were certain things that certain
departments needed to know about digital and how it related to
their deliverables in their area. So that focus on those learning
paths became really key.
OMCP: Can you, just
off the top of your head remember what disciplines the team focused
Emma: Yes. It was
broken into three levels, really. There was the introductory level.
So that's the kind of language, display digital-wide content that
it sits in. And then it drilled down into each of those kind of
areas, like PPC, SEO, Mobile,and programmatic. And then there was a
deep dive layer as well into kind of more action-orientated, "how
do I apply this knowledge?"
OMCP: So any challenges that you remember running
into? Something that was rather difficult?
Emma: Well, I think
the initial buy-in is always the difficult bit. It's
actually…people think, "This is useful to me, this is relevant to
me. And I'm really committed to learning this stuff." So, you know,
if somebody does a face to face workshop, they take a day out of
their week, they turn up and they, you know, they're there for the
day, they're present for the day, and then they go back to their
normal jobs. This was, you know, an ongoing piece of learning that
they were entirely in control of. So we had good visibility of who
was doing what and if people who weren't doing what they were
supposed to be doing there was follow-up.
But essentially, you know, we weren't
being mother hen to them. We want them to be adults and to actually
embrace this stuff themselves. So that was a bit of a challenge in
itself is actually let's take a step back and just trust these
people. And if it comes right, and they understand why they're
doing this then it's gonna run fine. And so we had a bit of testing
to make sure that we got that bit right so that people wanted to do
this for themselves.
Culture Makes a
OMCP: Is there something unique about the culture
of the people at MediaCom that contributed to the success?
Emma and support team show award at MediaCom headquarters in
Emma: We're a very
people-orientated business. And I guess because we're so
people-orientated, we want to be able to do the best work for
people. So, you know, our kind of whole ethos is about people
first. And this was about empowering people here. So be the best
practitioner that you can possibly be. We're going to give you
every piece of support that we can give you to make you the best
version of yourself that you can be in terms of doing the best job
that you can. So we put them at the heart of all of this. The
secondary benefit of that is actually, you know, we then know
digital content and can advise clients better than anybody else.
You know, you've then got the confidence to work the client's needs
in better ways. But primarily this is about we want to empower you
to be the best practitioner that you can be.
OMCP: Yeah, it's a
win-win, isn't it?
OMCP: It really is.
And it's a delightful thing to watch happen. Okay, Emma, you've got
more than a decade of experiences, you have a clear success story
here, you have a lot to offer. What would be a couple of bulleted
steps or points of advice for somebody who wants to get the same or
better exam pass rates out of their program?
Keys to Success
Emma: Have senior management buy-in, have clear
stakeholders, have clear communication. Have clear metrics that
you're going to measure because how do you know how well you're
doing unless you know what you're measuring against? And understand
the challenges that your audience are going to be coming up against
so you can help solve them for them early on. Well, I think those
would be my kind of key, my key things. You have to have senior
leadership buy-in because without that, it doesn't have any legs to
kind of go anywhere. You know, there's no reason for it to exist.
And for us having the key stakeholders who were actively involved
on a day-to-day basis with people wanting to get engaged with this
was a good turning point for us.
OMCP: Okay. What
Emma: It was fun and
useful to enable competition in these things, so that the league
table really did make it fly.
an amazing enabler. Did you do it team by team or level by level or
Emma: It was
department by department: The planning department, a direct
response department, a buying department. So they're all kind of
key departments within the building that do key functions but
they're interrelated jobs.
OMCP: And so you
didn't do it regionally?
Emma: No. It was just
different departments within the building.
OMCP: Can you mention
just a couple of the major clients that these people are
Emma: Yeah. So Shell,
Tesco, Sky, Thomson First Choice. Coca Cola, Who else did we work
on? We had VW at the time.We've got a roster of over 300
OMCP: And I know it's
all over the website but can you just say for this interview what's
the primary services that MediaCom is providing to these
Emma: We provide a
media planning and buying service. So we strategically plan
advertising campaigns and then we buy the media to deliver
optimized advertising to a target audience.
OMCP: Okay. Emma -
anything else that we should have covered?
Emma: I think, for
me, some of this has been about having a great partner to work with
in Circus Street. We have tried to deliver some of this stuff
ourselves to greater or lesser success. But we had a great partner.
We absolutely came at it as a partnership and that's been key for
us in helping to learn this because we had all the extra resource
to help us actually push it over the line. And they've got enormous
energy to make this stuff work. And, you know, that's been a
This article was first published on OMCP, Thursday 30 March. Click
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