Seeing beyond the desk

Networking and engaging folks that are higher-ups can often be intimidating. So to help others see beyond the desk, I wanted to share some best practices for finding and engaging with a mentor or relevant peer network regardless of where you are at in your career.

As John Donne so eloquently put it, “No man is an island entire of itself.”

This statement hit home for me this past June, when I had the opportunity and pleasure to attend the PRSA Counselors Academy Spring Conference in Austin, TX, an event featuring owners of agencies of all sizes or very senior executives at big agencies responsible for P&L, business development, recruiting, etc.

Counselors Academy, like any good mentor or peer network, enables collaborative peer relationships in which meaningful business counsel, operational best practices, and industry trends can be shared and gained. And, as you already know, it's always great to swap client war stories over beers with colleagues and peers. 

Needless to say, it was refreshing to be in a room full of people just like me who have been through the same ups and downs that I'm experiencing as our agency expands. It became immediately apparent that, thankfully, I was not alone.

The reality is, if you work in isolation (as we tend to do from time to time) you often repeat the mistakes that others have made. Which is why I've always sought out a strong network of mentors and peers throughout my career, but even more so since starting my agency six years ago.

As PR practitioners, we're all very social animals, but networking and engaging folks that are higher-ups can often be intimidating. So in order to help others see beyond the desk. I wanted to share some best practices for finding and engaging with a mentor or relevant peer network regardless of where you are at in your career:

1. Multiple mentors: Having more than one mentor is very productive. For example, a junior-level account exec might have a mentor who is one level ahead in the organizational hierarchy and another mentor who is at a VP level or higher. Many PR professionals find that level-ahead mentors are better at providing social support for day-to-day challenges, while more-senior level mentors are better at providing meaningful career support.

2. Don't wait, initiate: Potential mentors are generally “people you aspire to be.” If someone at your firm strikes you as a role model, take advantage of opportunities to socialize with that person, share stories of overcoming challenges and adversities that people experience to get where they are, and always respect your potential mentors' time.

3. Network - but upward: Networking with managers higher up in the agency offers benefits beyond peer-level social networking. Studies have shown that employees who self-initiate mentoring relationships with higher-ups receive more career support, get promoted sooner, and are generally more satisfied with their job and organizational position.

4. Be a team leader; work well with others: Demonstrate leadership by supporting other members in your work group. Finishing your personal assignments is important, but assisting other group members in completing their portion of the project, whether it's a client event or new business pitch, enables the whole group to succeed.

5. Be willing to learn: Technical ability is important in the PR profession, but your enthusiasm for acquiring new skills is just as important. Demonstrate your willingness to learn by asking potential mentors for challenging new tasks, actively participating in training programs and webinars, joining industry-based professional groups, and engaging in meet-ups that provide new learning opportunities. Then, let potential mentors know what specific steps you are taking to mature as a professional.

Conclusion: Without a doubt, having a network of mentors and peers who champion your career, assist you in dealing with complex and demanding work issues, offer friendship and acceptance, and serve as role models is a true treasure. Just remember, you don't have to wait for mentors to come along. Rather, beginning today, you can cultivate a network of mentoring or or peer relationships: Identify what you expect to gain from mentoring relationships; carefully consider whether your personality matches with potential mentors' personalities; evaluate potential mentors' experience and availability; then begin the process of networking and connecting. Finally, resolve to be receptive to new ideas, candid feedback and no-nonsense conversations with your network of mentors.

Harrison Wise is president of Wise Public Relations.

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