I recently changed my blog’s theme to GEN-Y PROGRESS. Why? Because I believe the more my generation learns, the stronger we can grow, both personally and professionally. So what can we do to keep learning? Read? Intern? Volunteer? Absolutely! These past few weeks, though, I’ve been especially interested in the value of mentor/mentee relationships.
Niki Pocock and Nate Long already have provided useful advice on how to achieve and maintain those connections. Today, I conclude my series by interviewing PR thought leader, Deirdre Breakenridge (@dbreakenridge). She is the author of several highly-esteemed industry books; the moderator for the monthly #PRStudChat; and a frequent speaker at conferences and local events.
As a student and PR pro-to-be, I look up to Deirdre, and am truly grateful to benefit from her insight.
1. Where do you work currently and what, in general, does your job entail?
I own my own marketing communications firm, PFS Marketwyse, in the Metro New York area. We’re a small boutique firm that customizes creative marketing programs. We help our clients to blend the best of traditional marketing with new media and social marketing initiatives. I’m the president and executive director of communications. As president of the agency, I am responsible for supervising all operations of the company including finance, technology and project management systems. As executive director of communications, I work with our clients on public relations and social media strategy. To carry both titles, I tend to wear many hats in a day. My varied responsibilities keep my job exciting and challenging at the same time.
2. When beginning your career, did you have a mentor? (teacher; boss; colleague)? In what way did he/she/they serve as a mentor to you?
Yes, there were a couple of people who I looked up to and learned from when I was interning and then at my first job in New York City. My direct supervisor was the office manager/account manager for the firm. She taught me how to run the office and also how to service client accounts. I guess that’s why it’s no surprise that I have the skills to handle the jobs I have today. Another very important mentor in my life was the senior vice president of the same firm, although I don’t really think he even knows how much he influenced me at the time. He used to call me “eagle eyes” and taught me how to catch the tiniest errors in correspondence by reading everything backward. In those days, we didn’t have email, so you can only imagine once you found an error how tedious and time consuming it was to retype letters on a manual typewriter. He also taught me how to pay close attention to the operations of a business and its market (reading the newspaper everyday was mandatory), which ultimately contributed to how I view public relations and conduct business today.
I also had a wonderful mentor at Glassboro State College. He was my PR professor and I completed my senior internship with his company during my last semester of school. I remember feeling extremely confident with my PR skills after taking his class and working with him during my internship. Under his guidance, I actually planned and implemented a research study by conducting focus panels with concerned community members. The research uncovered the frustration and apprehension of residents with respect to a large (and growing) neighborhood garbage dump that was causing controversy in the county.
All of my mentors were extremely smart, savvy and very career minded individuals. They were also nurturing people who took the time to show me the best practices in the field of public relations, which I believe helped me to excel in my career, and gave me the direction I needed to be the PR professional that I am today.
3. What makes a good mentor? What are some ideal qualities?
A good mentor is someone who will guide you, offer advice and give you open and honest criticism, which is a gift as you are progressing in your career. I also think that a good mentor is a teacher yet is still willing to learn as well. It’s very important the mentoring relationship shares knowledge that can lead to learning on both sides. A good mentor has patience and will involve a PR apprentice in any kind of PR interaction to help that person to grow within the field.
I remember, as an intern at Padilla Speer, I was able to experience pitching live broadcast interviews. Specifically, I secured an entire media tour for an author/economist who was visiting New York and had just launched his book. I booked and attended a radio show at WWOR with radio host Larry Hatzi (who has since passed) and a Good Morning America interview, too. The opportunity to experience this type of media tour meant that I had mentors who trusted me. They were more than willing to let me be a part of any client interaction and media relations program. There definitely has to be a certain level of trust between the mentor and the protégé so that the PR “student” can experience and learn on the job.
4. What do you feel are important qualities in a “mentee”?
There are definitely important qualities in the “mentee” too. The mentee must be confident, energetic, enthusiastic, willing to learn through new experiences, outgoing, proactive and someone who asks questions and loves to learn. Each one of these qualities leads to new found information and experiences that would not necessarily be possible if the mentee did not push ahead and really show a tremendous interest in learning about the best practices of the profession. A mentee should also be able to receive criticism gracefully and not take anything personally. I learned early on that the field of public relations is sometimes synonymous with rejection (especially with respect to media relations). It wasn’t unusual for a journalist to hang up on you if you didn’t do your homework and called them while they were on deadline. The mentee also has to know that perfectionism doesn’t exist and that in order to truly learn you are going to make mistakes. Mistakes and learning from them are a natural part of the mentor/mentee process.
5. How can students/young professionals get a mentor?
One of the best ways to find a mentor is to be a part of an association. For example, the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) where you can meet professionals as you are learning about PR. Organizations provide you with a great deal of knowledge and networking with professionals. Once you join the PR field, it’s important to continue your learning through a professional society. Through the many contacts you meet, you can always ask a seasoned executive if they have the time or interest in mentoring.
Social networking is also a great way to find a mentor. Today, you can set up a profile on LinkedIn or Twitter and search for PR professionals or groups of professionals who band together to discuss industry topics. As you meet people, you can research and discuss mentoring with them, after becoming a part of their community. Approaching them privately, you’ll be able to ascertain if there’s an opportunity for them to be your mentor. The ideal mentor situation is when you can actually be in the same physical office space with your mentor. However, I’ve mentored students via the telephone, through email correspondence and by sharing information and resources (which is especially easy today through social media).
6. Is there anything else you’d like to say about the subject?
Mentoring can lead to very special relationships and I always enjoy hearing stories where the mentor and mentee years later are still in touch and very much connected. Also, because PR professionals learn so much as they move through their careers, they should give back the same knowledge and insight to young professionals. Giving back will offer these young professionals, whether beginning their careers or really at any point in their career, the chance to learn and grow in the profession.
Thank you so much, Deirdre, for all you contribute to the PR industry and for taking the time to share your insight with us!