As a Senior English and Communications Major with a professional writing concentration, I began my junior year of college with a fair amount of uncertainty for the future. I knew that I wanted to use my writing and communication skills in a meaningful way, but I wasn’t sure how to do so. After extensive research and correspondence with graduate English majors and mentors along the way, the field of public relations and marketing caught my attention.
This correspondence revealed that a majority of expert-level professionals in this field attributed their abilities to the guidance of influential people who taught them when they were beginning their careers. Upon hearing this, I made a self-commitment that I would find myself in the position of a mentee by the beginning of the summer. I met this goal when I was able to assume a position that allowed me to immerse myself in the world of public relations and marketing.
I began my journey in public relations with little experience in the field, and gradually honed my skills and proficiencies through extensive practice. This would not have been garnered without the mentorship I have received along the way.
Mentorship in the fields of public relations and marketing is the key differentiating factor that separates those who can simply apply their skills to different tasks from those who truly understand the core purpose of what that field entails. Although the term “apprenticeship” is primarily used for trade professions, aspiring PR and marketing professionals should take an apprentice’s point-of- view while in a learning position. This shift in attitude will pay dividends when it comes to optimizing and establishing your experience in public relations and marketing.
A mentor will not only provide a different perspective and challenge you, but they will also impart different leadership experiences and cultivate your skillset through their guidance. Answering consequential questions and being shown the ropes is immensely valuable for someone new to any field. This acclamation and immersion process is just like learning a new language, which is why people pursuing bilingualism travel to countries where that language is primarily spoken.
The same principals hold true with PR and marketing; you must immerse yourself in the terminology, due diligence and demeanor of a professional in order to become one. Your mentors serve as your guide in this uncharted territory, as they are the “native speakers”.
Giving a Fish vs. Teaching to Fish
The opportunity to learn from shortcomings and improve upon them is a rare and powerful concept, one only present in an environment fostered by the culture of an organization. In the entrepreneurial world, the saying, “fail early and fail often” is used to help entrepreneurs grow and become veterans in the field of innovation. While veteran status is earned by a select few, aspiring professionals should seek mentors who provide constructive feedback because it sparks the introspection necessary to catalyze professional growth.
The old proverb about giving someone a fish and them eating for one day versus teaching someone to fish and them eating forever directly applies in this field. Without the guidance and opportunities that my mentors have given me, I surely would not have the desire that I have today to take on new challenges and expand my skillset.
A Gift, not a Given
While there are textbooks and resources that can teach you theory and show you case studies about PR and marketing, they are no comparison to tangible field experience. A good mentor will give you directives and specific tasks with little autonomy or room for error. But a great mentor will believe in you enough to let you get your hands dirty, make a few mistakes and develop.
For young professionals looking for mentorship and guidance, understand that it is a privilege that is earned, not a benefit that you are entitled to. No mentor will trust you with critical tasks unless you’ve demonstrated your ability to meet deadlines, plan and organize projects and take initiative. Students who want to hone their skills within an agency or an in-house setting should make an effort to maximize their potential to learn, and there is no better teacher than a seasoned professional who is willing to give you their time and attention in an effort to watch you improve.
Aidan MacIsaac is a public relations and marketing intern at Flackable, a national, full-service public relations and digital marketing agency headquartered in Philadelphia.