PR Pros: What Can Having a Mentor Do for You?


Dwayna Haley reached a brick wall early in her career at the pivotal middle-management level at her agency. She found herself frustrated by feedback, and struggling to connect to her managers. Haley decided she needed a peek behind the curtain to move to the next level. 

“My best relationships have come from aligning with people who can give intimate, transparent counsel,” said Haley, former SVP, practice director at Porter Novelli. 

Haley found that her personality, passion and direct style of communication were positioned as aggressive, confrontational and abrasive.

She reached out to [Everywhere Agency president] Danica Kombol, a former colleague. “Frankly, I needed a white woman to tell me how to adjust my approach to marry my intent with my delivery," Haley said. Her mentor offered feedback, "helped me pivot, learn the language...and create stronger relationship capital with peers and management."

In addition, she afforded a safe space "where I could share my experience and perceptions." Haley's mentor to this day, Kombol "shared insights many would have been intimidated to provide. She changed my world view and with it my access to opportunity and advancement.”

Mentors can provide PR pros with a view of what's ahead. Without mentors, many communicators feel like they're lost in the woods without a map, trying to navigate their next turn. Mentors may offer the clarity many communicators seek.  

“Mentors serve as guides to mentees’ career paths, helping to strengthen skill sets; define personal and professional goals; build confidence; and share their own experiences—both good and bad—as lessons in what to take advantage of as well as what to watch out for,” said Philip T. Bonaventura, PRSA's interim CEO.

When to Find a Mentor

Accessing a mentor can happen at any point during a career, however, the relationship probably is of most benefit during a growth period.  

“Each stage within the cycle of progression is new and comes with much-needed personal and professional development counsel to guide real-time challenges and preparedness for future ambition,” Haley said. “When just starting out, (having a mentor) may include a seasoned industry professional for inspiration and aspiration, a middle-management level pro who can coach from recent tangible experience and a life coach who can help shape confidence, command and accountability. Either way, mentors can drive immediate impact when you’re extremely thoughtful about assembling a cast of support necessary to address both gaps and opportunities.”

How to Find a One

Finding a mentor may require research if you don’t already have someone in mind.  The process is relatively simple, according to Bonaventura.

“Before seeking out a mentor, it’s important to define what skills and experience and guidance you’re hoping to acquire on your personal journey,” he said. “Once you’ve done that, it’s then easier to tailor your search to meet your particular needs.”

Bonaventura suggested having conversations with those who know you best. 

“Talk to friends, colleagues, and others in your personal and professional networks about what you are hoping to find in a mentor and advice on how to proceed,” he said. 

If you have someone in mind, Haley said the process if very simple—just ask—but also do your homework.

“Be prepared to signal exactly what you’d like to learn from the relationship,” she said. “Learn who they are, and be specific about how their experience can help you. If the relationship is net new, ask for 15 to 30 minutes on their calendar and send an agenda ahead of the call." This shows immediate respect for the potential mentor's time. In addition, it allows the mentor to prepare for the initial discussion.

"It’s also important to understand that these relationships should be reciprocal," Haley said. Never forget to ask what you can do for the mentor. "No matter how junior or senior your position, you never know what contribution may be helpful. At minimum, the question signals maturity and a desire to pay back and forward the investment given.”

Resources for Mentoring

Fortunately, many professional organizations can help PR pros build a plan to find that dream mentor. Recently, PRSA launched Mentor Connect, designed to assist PRSA and PRSSA members who need guidance, coaching and advice in all aspects of their career.  The program is in its pilot phase, and is focused on aiding students and new professionals from diverse backgrounds, Bonaventura said. 

PR Council focuses on female mentorship with SHEQUALITY. It features events, workshops and multimedia to help grow a consistent pipeline of strong female leaders, mentors and allies, and works to achieve equality at all levels of management in PR firms. 

"Mentoring is a key part of what PR Council Members do—but not in the traditional “more senior person shares guidance with more junior person” format," said Kim Sample, president, PR Council. "Our Members embrace mentoring up, down and sideways. Our SHEQUALITY programming is built on women helping women achieve success the way that works for them. Our functional community Members mentor each other on important topics critical to success in those roles."

Organizations promoting diversity mentorship include Colorcomm, the National Black Public Relations Society, and even some search firms, including Kim Hunter’s KLH and Associates. Haley supports these organizations, and said the best way to develop relationships is to get out there. 

“Representation matters! Attending trainings, thought leadership events and even developing one-to-one relationships from networking have provided immeasurable impact to performance guidance,” she said.

Nicole Schuman is a reporter for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal