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?
Great post. I am all about mentoring and believe it is truly beneficial for both parties. I currently work for a company I interned with 3 years ago. I met a young publicist during my internship and we kept in touch over the years. She took me under her wing as an intern and showed me the ropes. I was let go from my first job, and she was the first person to help me stay positive and eventually help me get the job I have today. She no longer works here but always makes herself available whenever I need help whether its about bringing in new business, subject lines to e-mails, or just about my career path.I hope to be as helpful to someone else as she was to me.
Josh, I love it. This is such a great post, and I wholeheartedly agree with you. Nuturing only brings growth and maturity (and quality and confidence!). We both survived a monster of an agency but have been lucky enough to find incredible mentoring through our career process…in your case before; in my case after. Loved the thoughts here and will definitely pass this along.
Great post, Josh. I can say that this also goes for journalism/publishing jobs. When you have someone at your company in a senior-level position willing to mentor and better others, both professionally and personally, it can only help matters. I'm quickly finding that the absence of this speaks volumes, and manifests itself in some very ugly ways — especially in the times we're living in now.
I've never understood some managers aversion to mentoring. Assuming you hired smart, upwardly mobile employees why would you not want them to feel some sense of loyalty to you once they move on to bigger and better things? Though we're in two completely different industries now, to this day my mentor from a decade ago can call asking for a favor and I'll drop everything and do it out of loyalty to him. It benefited our organization at the time b/c it made me a better employee and it sure as heck benefits him and his organization now.Sure, mentor for altruistic reasons – we'd all be a little better off if we gave a little more than we got. But if you don't see how it can help your organization, perhaps you're not really management material.
Wow this is right on the money! During my first internship I had the most amazing mentor – she made me love Communications and PR and ultimately helped me make the decision to stay in this field. Over the years I have found one of two mentalities – those who are willing to help, or those who seemed to be threatened by ones drive to succeed. I think if we take the mentor approach to new entrants to the PR world we will create success not only for our clients but our own agencies. Great post – really got me thinking!
Could not agree more and hope my ex-employees and co-workers feel I have mentored and learned whenever and wherever I can!