Q I have been in PR for about 15 years now, having progressed in my career from an account coordinator to my current level of EVP in a mid-size healthcare agency. A few weeks ago, a young woman who was recently hired as an AAE approached me and asked if I would be her mentor. Our firm doesn't have a specific program in place to assign mentors to junior staff - she just took the initiative and asked me herself.
I think mentoring is a wonderful thing to do, but I have some real concerns as to whether or not I am up to this. I don't want to disappoint her, but I fail to see what I can offer her in the way of guidance.
Most of what I know I have learned the hard way - by trying things and making mistakes. On the other hand, I probably would have liked to have had a mentor myself. But I'm not sure that I want to give my own time when I have so little of it anyway. Do I have an obligation to be her mentor, even though I have doubts about it?
Ms. D, Baltimore
A Do I sense just a tiny hint of "I learned it the hard way, so should you coming through in your question? It would be fairly understandable for you to feel this way, since you did not benefit from a mentor yourself. But I urge you to consider mentoring as an opportunity rather than a burden.
Once you get beyond the trepidation, I should think you would be flattered to find a young person who recognizes you as someone from whom she can learn. You may never have another chance to offer your perspectives on how to manage a PR career, how best to service clients, and how to negotiate the ethical minefields that pop up throughout your working life. Don't be greedy with your knowledge. Share it with the next generation. You will be helping the whole profession evolve.
Q I work in the public affairs office of a small city police department.
We have had our share of problems in the past, many of which have stemmed from not being as smart as we could be with media relations. But in the past 18 months or so, we have tried to be very transparent with the media and the public about things as they come up.
Unfortunately, despite these efforts, there is a certain beat reporter from one of the alternative weeklies in town that won't give us the benefit of the doubt. Recently, one of our patrolmen got into some trouble over illegal gambling. This reporter wants to paint it as a full-scale departmental crisis and cover-up - far beyond what the facts demonstrate. Frankly, I want him to drop it and start reporting on the real issues. How can I get him to see things from our perspective?
Mr. T, Dallas
A This is a classic example of how long it takes to restore a damaged reputation. As you are now beginning to realize, reporters will not automatically believe that your department has really reformed. The corruption angle always makes for a much more entertaining story anyway, right?
You will have to dig in and do some hard work in order to renovate this relationship. First, arrange a face-to-face meeting with the reporter at the police station. Try to get some senior police personnel in the meeting as well. Answer all of his questions relating to the recent incident fully, and without hesitation. Once he has exhausted that subject, turn the discussion to other story ideas that he may want to pursue. Don't try and sell him a scoop on the departmental bake sale. Ask him what kinds of stories he would like to be writing about, and try and find ways that you can work together.
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