PRSA YPN: The Value of Mentorship

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By: J.C. Craig

Young professionals from all over Chicago gathered at Weber Shandwick last Tuesday night seeking wisdom and insight from some top professionals in the PR industry. The event was sponsored by the PRSA and featured six impressive panelists.

A sold-out crowd of 40 young professionals listened intently as the panelists summarized their extensive backgrounds. With experience ranging from the Chicago Tribune to Capitol Hill, the panelists boasted diverse backgrounds and a full-range of knowledge.

One constant among the panelists, however, was their reliance on mentors and others in their professional network.  Our fearless leader Kim Eberl, CEO of Motion PR, sat on the panel and explained how her mentors have evolved throughout her career. The five others agreed and conversations flowed from there.

Following brief introductions from the panelists, the group was divided for more intimate breakout sessions. Our three MPR interns stuck together and chatted with Clarkson Hine first. Hine, the Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications & Public Affairs at Beam Suntory, claimed that he was the “out-of-the-box” candidate for many jobs he pursued.  He urged “applying your past experience accordingly” and “sending signals of confidence” to score the job you want.

Next, it was time to pick the brain of our boss, Kim Eberl. When asked how she deals with clients that she may not be enthusiastic about, she explained that she won’t accept an RFP unless she sees something special in the inquiring company. “Try to find something fascinating in every client,” she said. This sentiment explains why Eberl cites her clients as important mentors in her career. As one young professional complained about a demanding account, Eberl promised that the hard work and frustration would pay off for her in the end.

Like Eberl, Michelle Flowers Welch is the CEO of her own agency. At Flowers Communications Group, Flowers said her team relies on both hard work and a good time. “The two really ought to be interwoven,” she said. In addition to fun, Flowers cited six other core values that she has built her company upon. These values have guided her through both her career and her personal life and have led her to believe in the sentiment that a successful career “starts with you and your values”.

Rounding out the breakouts, our interns heard from Chicago Managing Director of APCO Worldwide, Tina-Marie Adams. Adams cut right to the chase and encouraged the listeners to begin building a network immediately. Offering advice, Adams said her own strategy is to build an address book of important contacts – she has a list of 3,200. “Enjoy the moment,” she said, “and get to know the person you’re talking to.” While she suggested looking out for yourself and your career, she also stressed the importance of kindness and mutual respect. “Be looking out for other people,” she explained, “and always think about how you can pass on an opportunity.”

As the sessions ended and the attendees were given a chance to openly network for the last half hour of the night, many sought the advice of Keith Burton, Principal at Grayson Emmett Partners. Grayson said professionals just starting out need to become “PR generalists” before they can become “PR specialists”. Others chose to speak with President of Walker Sands Communications Mike Santoro. “You often learn more from the people you don’t want to be like than those you do want to be like,” he said.

Echoing Flowers’ earlier sentiment, Santoro also spoke on the importance of lightheartedness in your career. He suggested that the most successful people are those that go home at the end of the day and think about other things; in Santoro’s case his wife and young children.

This was not the first time family came up over the course of the night, though. When speaking on mentors, Clarkson Hine said, “I’ve always gotten really great career advice from my father… it’s okay to find a mentor close to home.” This advice and the rest given to the young professional attendees throughout the night was expectedly helpful. While advising on networking, the panelists proved to be invaluable connections themselves. Now, it’s the task of the young professionals to maintain these connections and possibly find a mentor for life.