Here, industry veteran Greg Graham talks about the importance of mentorship no matter what stage of your career. Even better, “Sparrow” will be a guest panellist at B&T’s Changing The Ratio conference this Thursday. Last minute tickets are still available here…
I’ve always been a big believer in the value of mentorship. For people who are in the early part of their career, having a mentor can have a profound effect on how they grow and develop as professionals and, in turn, give back to their industry.
Like a lot of things, mentorship is more important today than ever before. Look around you. The marketing and media industry is under pressure. Agencies and marketing departments are under-staffed and over-worked. Junior people progress to senior roles faster than ever and don’t always have an experienced person on hand to guide them – so it ends up being sink or swim.
It’s wonderful that the majority of agencies offer mentorship and training to employees at all levels of their career. But we know that thanks to the pressures of client expectations, hectic schedules and general lack of time, many young media professionals are actually too busy to participate in training and mentoring programs.
Having these programs is great, but it doesn’t mean people are actually using them. It’s a bit like offering your employees yoga classes and free fruit, and then enabling an environment where working crazy long hours is the norm.
The Media Federation of Australia is providing great resources through its training and development programs for young media executives, and I always encourage younger people to get involved. If you fit the bill, check out NGEN, for people with less than five years in the industry, and MFA 5-plus, that next tier of professionals with five-plus years’ experience. They’re brilliant programs and I hope the industry’s young talent continue to use them.
A mentor’s role is to listen
Having a mentor is more valuable than any training course you can do. A mentor provides continuity – whether you work with them for a year or more – and can really change a person’s career. It’s about having someone listen, offer insight and steer you in the right direction.
As a mentor, I don’t tell young professionals what to do. I guide them through options and ways to approach a problem or challenge, based on real-life situations from my career – for example, a client crisis and how we handled it, whether it worked or not – so together we can explore different scenarios to choose the most appropriate course of action for them. Just as importantly, a mentor can listen and discuss personal issues that may be having a dramatic effect on your professional life.
It’s not a cookie-cutter approach – it depends on the individual, their own areas of strength, and the situation they’re facing.
When I was starting out, mentoring looked a little bit different. Back then we mostly looked to our bosses as our role models, and learned by watching them. In my case, I paid close attention to how they treated people, how they communicated with clients and colleagues and employees, what they weighed up when making decisions, how they dealt with challenges, and more. The leaders I admired had a no-bullshit approach.
I also modelled myself on my good mate and long-time colleague, John Steedman. Over the years, I watched how Steady led people and often asked myself in challenging situations: “What would Steady do?”
What I learned, and what I tell everyone I’ve been lucky enough to mentor, is to take all that thinking and knowledge and then do it your way – your style may not be the same as your role model’s or your mentor’s and that’s OK. You’ll find your own personal style.
Youth needs grey-haired wisdom
What saddens me today is that our industry is losing its most senior people to early retirement or redundancy for the sake of cost savings. What that means is that clients are losing the wisdom and IP that could make a huge difference on their business, as well as losing the people who could help guide and nurture the next generation.
From my conversations with clients, I’m hearing that they crave people with experience and knowledge to work on their business and be a trusted advisor with a guiding hand at a time when they themselves feel like they’re on a treadmill. That’s something that requires a major rethink by agencies.
From my perspective, mentoring people has always been important to me. It’s something I enjoy doing and find fulfilling, but I also believe I have a responsibility to help nurture our future leaders. I’m lucky that I’m at a point in my career where I have more time to devote to mentoring young talent.
If you have or are looking for a mentor, treat them with respect. Their time is valuable and you should appreciate this.
If you don’t have a mentor, you need to find one. It doesn’t matter what stage in your career you’re at, you can always benefit from having someone to bounce off ideas. This is even more important if you don’t always have the support or leadership in your current role.
And remember, the mentor you need might change at different stages in your career – it doesn’t have to be one person forever.