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How to Build a Consultant: Developing skills for life

Posted by Chris King on 25th April 2024

Having been at Wildfire since 2006 — and walked the path from account manager to managing director — I have become a case study for the agency’s pedigree in career progression and retention. And I’m not alone.

For as long as I can remember, there’s always been a management drive for Wildfire to be a top developer of talent. Not only is it something we enjoy, but we’re also extremely proud of our achievements as well. We talk openly about our aspiration that a stint at Wildfire on your CV is a badge of honour — something that is recognised across the tech PR industry as a mark of quality.  

At April’s PRCA Workplace Champions 2024 awards ceremony, that aspiration took a step closer to reality when we were shortlisted for our first-ever training and development award for our self-built How to Build a Consultant programme.

The brainchild of Wildfire CEO Debby Penton and trainer/coach Rachel Boothroyd, How to Build a Consultant was born in 2020 out of our frustration with the ROI and employee feedback we were seeing from off-the-shelf PR training from the likes of the PRCA and CIPR.

We desperately wanted something far more repeatable, transparent and bespoke to our needs  — something that could become the Wildfire standard and part of our culture.

The vision was that teaching people practical PR skills like pitching and writing is all well and good. But the biggest value we can offer anyone is helping them to develop key consultancy skills that empower them for life — whether in or outside of PR. This includes soft skills such as emotional intelligence, active listening, having difficult conversations, confidently and constructively challenging people, reading the room — the list goes on.

Fast forward to today and our How to Build a Consultant programme is about to take on its fourth cohort. The beauty of the year-long course is that it doesn’t matter if you’re a copywriter, an associate director or a junior account exec — everyone can take something appropriate to them and their role from each of the six course modules. These are:

  • Insights Adaptations

Based on the Insights Discovery® methodology, this module teaches people how to adapt their own style to connect most effectively with different types of profiles, and how to read the profiles of clients and other stakeholders who have not taken the Insights profile test.

  • Feedback

Having a feedback culture is very important to Wildfire because it enables us to grow and ensure we get even better at delivering for our clients. In this module, we teach an effective tool for delivering feedback that people have a chance to practise with a roleplay actor.

  • Difficult Conversations and Productive Conflict

From time to time we all need to deliver ‘difficult messages’, where the news isn’t what the recipient wants to hear. Many of us, naturally, are reluctant to do this. Yet, it is important to have these conversations, while also maintaining positive relationships. This module provides tools to structure these conversations.

  • Consultancy-led Conversations

Elevating the type of conversations we have with our clients is essential if we are to be their trusted partner. This module teaches tools and techniques to enable consultancy-style conversations with clients and stakeholders. 

  • Persuasive Presentations

Giving presentations is part of the lifeblood of Wildfire. This workshop is about how we structure the content in our presentations, what to include, and what to omit to ensure we deliver maximum impact.

  • Consultancy-led Sales

This builds on the Consultancy-led Conversations module and applies the same methodology to the sales situation.

The course has evolved incrementally each year. Last year, we took the major step of getting the course CPD-certified, so it is now a qualification that has relevance and legitimacy outside of Wildfire.

This year, we’re introducing new modules for the course alumni to refresh and update the skills they learned the first time around.

Investing in such a bespoke programme doesn’t come cheap. Our investment in training for client-facing team members is now more than double the PRCA’s latest benchmark figures (Jan 24). But the payback is worth it in terms of employee satisfaction, client satisfaction, client growth and delivering on the agency’s purpose of turning ambition into action. 

The title of the How to Build a Consultant programme was inspired by Caitlin Moran’s 2014 evocative story of self-discovery and invention — How to Build a Girl. At the time, Debby joked that Wildfire could win awards, Rachel could write the book, and Debby would get a mention in the credits. In light of our shortlisting for the PRCA award, now may be a good time for Rachel to start writing.

Chris King

Chris’s extensive experience of agency PR, ‘can-do’ attitude and track record for achieving outstanding results time after time make him a firm favourite amongst clients. His natural teaching skills make him an expert mentor and respected MD.