One of the worst kept, dirty little secrets about our industry is that it is a revolving door; from employees to clients, it’s a rare feat when a partnership (whether external or internal) lasts longer than a year or two. Yes, there are some really good firms whose attrition rates are the cause of envy, but there are some really troubled firms whose turnover rate of employees and clients is cause for alarm. One of the common threads that can determine if you’re working for a good or troubled firm is how leadership mentors its employees.
My very first job out of graduate school was an adjunct professor at a couple of New Jersey universities. While academia has a harsh reputation of publish or perish, many seasoned professors challenge and encourage younger academics. Nights of discussion lead to philosophical, theoretical and applicable knowledge; from thoughts on your particular discipline to how to structure your class or how to deal with students play a large role in how young academics are mentored. Without the support of colleagues, a young academic can get lost in the inexperience of running a classroom. Mentorship is sought after for both intellectual stimulus and basic survival skills!
The same holds true in the PR field. When I moved from the academic arena to the business world, I had to simultaneously learn the tricks of the trade (from communications strategy to the tactics involved in order to execute the strategy) while imparting my understanding of how people communicate to clients.
The first agency I worked for fostered intellectual and personal growth. Starting with the CEO and going all the way down to the Account Coordinators, the idea of learning surrounded everything we did. We had team building exercises, bi-weekly staff meetings praising the work we all did and holiday parties. These were not excuses to not do work, but were in fact part of a larger strategy to mentor young (and some not so young) professionals in order for everyone to do their best. In fact the CEO of the firm would often stay late with me to walk me through a project, letting me find out the solution on my own. And when it came time to present to the client, he was the first one to applaud my efforts. His door was always open; whether for quick discussion of a particular client issue or for late night chats about how to be a better professional, knowing that I was learning from one of the best, helped set me on the course I’m on today. He was a mentor.
The second agency I worked at was the complete opposite. In the time I was there, at least 7 people were let go or resigned (compared with 1 from my previous firm) and we lost more accounts than I can remember (I do remember 4 accounts leaving the same week I was laid off). The management styles of this company were non-existent. There was no team building, no staff meetings (unless you counted the ones right after a mass firing) and no holiday parties. While the CEO’s door was always open for a discussion, it was hard to learn from him as he was never in the office. Mentoring takes time and dedication, something this CEO never seemed to have. That said, because the CEO did not mentor, it fell on the more senior employees to help junior staffers learn the intricate play between internal PR (making sure the boss didn’t jump down your throat for a silly reason) and external PR (dealing with clients who took their frustrations about our CEO out on us).
If our industry wants to put a stopper in the revolving door, we need to look at how we mentor younger employees. Are we doing all that we can to foster and nurture growth? Are we explaining why monitoring (our TPS report) is necessary for the overall objectives of a client’s strategy? Are we bringing in junior level associates into the loop when discussing the goals of a particular campaign or the overall communications strategy? Mentoring takes time and devotion, and if you want to see your firm grow, take the effort to mentor. We all have had mentors along the way and it’s a good feeling being able to give back. What are some of your best/worst mentoring stories?