My career in the communications industry has witnessed a whirlwind of creativity, strategy, and constant evolution. From volunteering in the Ole Miss football press box when I was 13 years old to directing multi-million-dollar integrated marketing campaigns for clients during my agency career, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the variety of challenges I’ve faced over nearly four decades in the business. 

While navigating this dynamic landscape is always exhilarating, I know how easy it can be to feel overwhelmed, especially for those just starting out, facing a job transition, or seeking new directions. That’s where mentoring comes in, offering a priceless opportunity to connect with experienced professionals, gain valuable insights, and accelerate your career journey.

In the high-pressure world of communications, juggling the demands of crafting compelling narratives or creative briefs that are on strategy, navigating office politics and client demands, and building a strong network can feel like a high-wire act without a net. But what if there was a hidden safety net – not just to catch you if you stumble – but to propel you to even greater heights? That net, my friends, is mentoring.

Yes, mentoring isn’t just for wide-eyed newbies. Seasoned communications professionals can also reap incredible benefits from being mentors and mentees/protégés. Let’s take a closer look. 

The History of Mentoring 

Mentoring is hardly a new concept. In a LinkedIn post for Pollinate Networks, the term “mentor” as we understand it originated in Homer’s famous epic, the Odyssey. When Odysseus, the poem’s hero, leaves to fight the Trojan War, he places his friend, Mentor, in charge of his son, Telemachus. Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, assumes the form of Mentor at various points in the story to offer him guidance and counsel in his father’s absence. Thus, the word mentor came to be associated with someone who can offer advice or impart skills to a protégé. 

In previous articles on this blog, other voices in our Spin Sucks community have examined mentoring from different angles. 

Finding Your Perfect Match

My friend (and our fearless leader), Gini Dietrich, wrote an article, “How to Find a Mentor… and Become a Successful Mentee,” which outlines the crucial first step: identifying your needs and goals. What specific areas of communication do you want to develop? What skills and knowledge are you seeking? Having a clear understanding of your aspirations will guide you towards mentors who can offer relevant expertise and support. 

Gini further emphasized the importance of networking. Look for individuals you admire within your company, industry events, or professional associations. Attend conferences, workshops, and online forums to connect with potential mentors. Building rapport and genuine connections are key to securing a meaningful mentorship. 

Thriving as a Protégé 

Another friend, Deirdre Breakenridge, wrote in her article, “Five Ways to Prepare for Reverse Mentoring,” about the concept of “reverse mentoring,” where the mentee/protégé brings fresh perspectives and digital expertise to the table. Embracing this two-way learning fosters a dynamic and enriching experience for both parties.

Becoming a successful protégé requires active participation and dedication. It’s not just about receiving; it’s also about giving back. Be prepared to ask insightful questions, share your own learnings and contribute meaningfully to the conversation. Additionally, actively seek and utilize resources beyond your mentor. 

The Power of Being a Mentor

So, if you’re a veteran communications professional, why should you consider becoming a mentor to others? Well, the benefits are certainly compelling. 

  • Sharpen your leadership skills: Guiding someone else’s career journey hones your communication skills, encourages empathy, and strengthens your ability to provide constructive feedback, making you a more effective leader in all aspects of your professional life.
  • Stay relevant: By engaging with fresh perspectives and emerging trends through your protégé’s experiences, you ensure your skill set remains razor-sharp and adaptable to an ever-changing communications landscape.
  • Give back and pay it forward: Have you ever thrown a rock into the water and watched those circles? Sharing your knowledge and experience as a mentor creates that same ripple effect, strengthening the communications profession as a whole and ensuring its future success. 
  • Expand your network: Connecting with protégés from diverse backgrounds and different generations broadens your professional circle, opening doors to unexpected opportunities and collaborations.

The Journey of Having a Mentor

If you’re early in your communications career journey, why should you make time to seek out a mentor? Well, the benefits are compelling for you, too. 

  • Fast-track your career: Collaborating with a mentor, you can gain valuable insights, learn to navigate workplace dynamics with expert guidance, and develop your skill set at an accelerated pace, propelling you forward along your chosen path.
  • Boost your confidence: Feedback and encouragement from a trusted mentor can work wonders for your self-confidence and empower you to tackle new challenges and seek out different opportunities.
  • Break free of the “workplace cocoon”: You can access industry knowledge and connections beyond your daily work bubble, opening doors to future possibilities and exposing you to fresh perspectives.
  • Develop effective communication skills: Learn from real-world examples and sharpen your ability to articulate your ideas effectively, becoming a more impactful communicator across all channels.

Why Mentoring Matters 

But wait, there’s more! Don’t limit yourself to mentoring within your company. Professional associations like the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) offer a goldmine of opportunities to give and receive mentorship:

  • Network with “rock stars”: Meet established professionals, industry leaders, and potential collaborators at events, conferences, and online forums, fostering connections that can last a lifetime. My PRSA friends know that mentoring is the calling card of the College of Fellows, and that group of experienced pros personifies what it means to pay it forward for the betterment of the individual and, ultimately, our profession. 
  • Develop leadership skills: Participate in committees, volunteer for roles, and gain valuable leadership experience that sets you apart in your career journey. When I volunteer with a charitable organization or serve on the board of a nonprofit, I get to exercise muscles different from the ones I use in my daily work, and there are always leadership opportunities. 
  • Lifelong learning: Access webinars, workshops and conferences offered by associations like PRSA, the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and the American Marketing Association (AMA) to stay ahead of the curve, gain new skills and stay inspired.
  • Build meaningful connections: Seek out mentors, protégés and peers who share your passion and can support your career journey and you’ll create a network of invaluable allies. When I pursued my Accreditation in Public Relations (APR), I connected with a study group of PR pros that remains a continuing source of wisdom and support more than 20 years later. 

Embrace the Power of Mentorship

Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of witnessing the transformational power of mentorship. From guiding eager college students as they take their first steps into our world, to helping emerging professionals navigate the complexities of our field, and to providing wisdom and guidance to workplace colleagues, it has been an incredible journey.

Mentorship is a two-way street. While we guide and inspire others, we, too, learn and grow from the experiences and perspectives of those we mentor. It is in these relationships that we find the true essence of our profession – a community of individuals committed to mutual support, shared knowledge, and continuous improvement.

Mentoring for a Lifetime

Mentoring is a powerful tool for career growth, both for mentors and protégés. By taking the initiative, being clear about your goals, and actively engaging in the learning process, you can forge a relationship that propels you forward in your communications journey. The connections you build today can pave the way for a fulfilling and successful career in the ever-evolving world of communications.

This blog post merely scratches the surface of the mentoring landscape. With dedication, open-mindedness, and a willingness to learn, your mentoring experience can become truly transformative. 

Remember, your network is your net worth. Stepping outside your comfort zone to connect with others can catalyze incredible career growth. So, ditch that lone wolf mentality, embrace the power of community, collaboration and lifelong learning. The future of communications is brighter, and more connected, than ever before. 

Ready to Start?

So where do you start? How do you find the right mentor and become a successful protégé who truly benefits from the relationship? Here are a few online resources: 

The world of communications is waiting for you to explore. Take the first step, embrace the power of mentoring, and watch your career soar to new heights!

Have you had a positive mentoring experience during your career? Please let me know about it, or feel free to ask questions in the comments.

Philip Tate

Philip Tate, APR, Fellow PRSA, President of Philip Tate Strategic Communications, LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina, is a brand builder and strategic communicator with more than 35 years of experience in public relations, marketing and branding. He is the 2023 recipient of the PRSA College of Fellows Sage Award, which honors a member of the College who has demonstrated a significant impact on the profession through mentoring and personal support of public relations professionals and members of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA).  During his tenure as Senior Vice President for Luquire George Andrews (LGA), he directed award-winning campaigns for many of the agency’s leading clients, including National Gypsum, Lincoln Harris, Rodgers Builders and the Charlotte 49ers. Philip has devoted much of his volunteer time to PRSA. He is past chair for the PRSA College of Fellows and previously served two terms as national treasurer on the PRSA national board of directors. He has also been active with the PRSA Independent Practitioners Alliance, Counselors Academy and as a member of the Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS). Philip graduated from Vanderbilt University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a double minor in political science and history.

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