By Patrizia Heun, Senior Account Executive
About six months ago, my manager sat down next to me and asked, “What do you think about having a mentor?” Before the suggestion came up, I didn’t even think about the possibility of having a mentor in a professional work life context — maybe for a specific project, yes. But for everyday work-life coaching? Up until then, I considered my team my mentors. They were the ones who’d explained the PR world to me, who would share their tips and knowledge over coffee.
I was really excited about the idea. Because, looking back, there were a few people I considered my mentors, but mostly without any of them formally recognizing the role they played in my life. This would be different. Caroline and I were introduced because my team thought we’d click and be good for each other based on our similar characters — which turned out to be very true, but more of that later.
Despite getting in contact with this purpose in mind, our mentor-mentoree-relationship grew organically. We had both never done something like this before and didn’t want to force anything. It turned slowly into a friendship — the cherry on top of every mentorship arrangement.
From a fairly subjective point of view, I’ve listed the four main aspects and learnings I consider the most valuable about my mentor-mentoree relationship.
1. Superpower: Knowledge, experience and patience
As a fresh graduate or someone who has just started in a new field (because this is not necessarily only applicable to PR), the flood of input can be overwhelming. There’s so much to learn, and every advice that makes a task quicker to fulfil or easier to understand is welcome.
Therefore, having someone who can not only pass on knowledge from years of experience, but who also takes the time — and this might sound fairly obvious — to answer questions, no matter how basic they may seem, is almost like a superpower. Because asking is what makes you understand processes and improve.
Sometimes especially the little things, like “When is the best time to pitch?” “How do I best organise my inbox?” and “What the heck does AOB mean?” can make a difference.
2. They have been where you are
This comes back to them having been in PR for years: they have made the same mistakes, gone through the same crises, and sometimes they even had to deal with the same type of colleague or client. Besides helping to solve the problem, my mentor could always calm me down, by mapping out the situation rationally and analysing the best way to approach it. Yes, we all know the world won’t go down, but sometimes we need to hear it again when we can’t see the wood for the trees.
3. Break the bubble
Working in a PR agency is great! It’s a creative place with so many people from different backgrounds that bring a variety of approaches to a task. But the longer you work in a place, the easier you can find yourself ‘stuck’ in an agency routine. The same goes for client work, adjusting your strategy to their likes and philosophy. Which is definitely not a bad thing, but sometimes it can be nice to get a bit of ‘fresh air’, and a mentor can be the best person to deliver it. Because they know what you need from a professional standpoint, but can be the creative sounding board that helps you to step out of your bubble for a while. I’ve spent a lot of time with Caroline just talking through ideas or projects, to see if there’s maybe a wider angle to this product news or a way to use this research. During these talks we’ve often come across completely new opportunities or questions that I didn’t even think about.
4. Keep calm and meditate
PR is a demanding sector. It’s often working under time pressure and towards deadlines; things can change quickly, and there’s not only one client you need to take care of. So, while you juggle all your tasks, it’s key to take care of yourself as well (in fact it’s the first thing Caroline told me). But it’s easy to forget that when you’re in the middle of it.
Caroline really helped me to understand the importance of a healthy work-life-balance. Of course, it’s something you hear about, but as long as the workload is manageable, you think you’re fine. Until you’re suddenly not any more.
A mentor can support you with things like time-management and self-care or just staying sane and calm in stressful situations with meditation. The latter was something Caroline also introduced me to, and it really has helped me to keep a clear head at times or just to shake the stress off when you’re at home. Of course, not every method works for everyone. But even having your mentor checking-in during a busy work day can make all the difference and help to find your focus again. Just a simple, but genuine, “How are you?”
I’ve learned a lot from Caroline during the past few weeks and — according to her — our meetings and calls have helped her a lot as well. Partly because she’s following her own advice more, partly because she gets new views from me as well, which is great. She’s become my voice of wisdom, critical sounding board and cheering fan. So, I can only say: Go, get a mentor. Just ask someone on your team if they could recommend someone for you.