Continuing Education Goes Digital
When Santiago Manent first joined Porcelanosa in 2005, the company had only begun conducting outreach to the A&D community. “At the time, management was thinking of strategies for increasing our presence to architects and designers, so that we could develop the kind of rapport we had already established with builders and retail customers,” recalls Manent, today a general manager based in Washington, DC. “We looked at all possible angles.”
Manent and his colleagues kept coming back to continuing education as a means of getting Porcelanosa’s foot in the doors of design studios. While the tactic eliminated the stress of, say, cold calling, “It was still a little intimidating to move forward with the idea: how do you turn our product knowledge into a CEU [continuing education unit]?” The team persevered, submitting a presentation called “Designing with Tile” to the American Institute of Architects for course accreditation. That survey of tile’s manufacturing processes, applications, design and specification criteria, and installation techniques has been tweaked regularly to reflect tile innovations and industry trends, and it is a mainstay of Porcelanosa’s CEU presentations to this day.
The Porcelanosa library of continuing-education presentations now numbers 10 in total and covers topics ranging from ventilated facades to large-format tile installation. Manent says that content curation has settled into a groove, as well. With oversight from Porcelanosa’s marketing department, “Content is a collaborative effort between American associates and factory-based experts. Usually, a presentation begins life as internal training for employees, and we shift the focus to an American A&D perspective.” With those materials in hand, sales representatives have visited various design studios, using the presentations to share up-to-date knowledge with longtime clients and cultivate relationships with designers new to Porcelanosa.
But even well-oiled machines have to adapt to change, and with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, Porcelanosa’s CEU program was no exception. “At first, we reached out to individual studios with presentation requests, as we had always done—the only difference being that we would present the material digitally,” Manent says. “Then we realized that our peers were doing the same, and that architects and designers were feeling overwhelmed by all the marketing.”
By last summer, the company proceeded in a new direction: a monthly series of CEU presentations, scheduled over approximately 10 days, that could be accessed by registrants from anywhere in the world. A casual observer could easily mistake one of these presentations for a Zoom call or Hopin conference. In fact, Porcelanosa uses the collaboration platform CEU Events as its online stage. As many as 50 or 60 A&D professionals attend a single presentation.
Just as pandemic-era telework has opened people’s eyes to the full potential of working from home, the switch to a digital-only CEU program has been cause for celebration. Rather than asking diverse members of one design team to drop everything and enter a conference room for continuing education, as had happened pre-pandemic, employees from myriad A&D studios can synchronize presentation attendance with their schedules. Previously, too, in-person attendees might attend presentations whose subject matter did not jibe with their respective project queues; now they can learn about the subject matter that resonates with them most. Manent also notes that digital CEU presentations create stronger links between A&D professionals and Porcelanosa knowledge, because the company’s experts and star presenters can oversee presentations irrespective of geography.
While methods of outreach have certainly changed, has the transition from in-person to digital meeting caused a shift in learning? Manent says certain questions are constant. “There will always be a need to clarify the differences between ceramic and porcelain tile, and when to use one or the other more effectively,” for instance. A&D professionals also express consistent interest in KRION®, especially with the recent introduction of a photocatalytic version known as K-Life, as they increasingly apply healthcare properties to various project types.
Indeed, Manent adds that CEU attendees often leave a presentation feeling inspired about new applications for things that might have been taken for granted. That porcelain products are specified for ventilated facades and rooftop pavers is a direct result of the changing of minds that takes place during a Porcelanosa CEU presentation. “The goal of continuing education is to answer questions about product types rather than specific products—questions that designers perhaps didn’t know they even needed to ask.”
To be sure, Manent misses face-to-face interaction, noting that “you can’t pass around samples on a website,” so when architects and designers return to the office, Porcelanosa’s CEU presentations will return with them. But he stresses that the company’s current digital transformation is not temporary. “These tools will remain at the ready. If we can regain the human touch and make a presentation available to multiple studios simultaneously, then a hybridized approach is the way to go.”