Few things are more desperately needed in the media agency business right now than mentorship, according to Gordon Patterson. He explains what needs to be done.
It’s often said that the advertising and marketing industry is for young people and generally I’d agree. People young at heart, with curious (open) minds, energy and the desire to learn. Herein lies our biggest challenge. As much as the subject of skills transfer has become a hot topic and a critical one for the continued growth of our profession and for transformation, it’s not simple nor is it a plug and play process. It requires a committed partnership.
Years ago – long before the term ‘mentorship’ was used – it was an unwritten rule that new entrants to our profession were the responsibility of senior staff members to train and nurture. Similarly, new entrants quickly realised that without considerable effort they would fail and have to leave the industry. Their success was in their hands.
Today a great deal has changed – and not necessarily for the best. To make the ’mentorship‘ effort productive, a partnership needs to be established between senior staff and new entrants. This partnership requires equal commitment and effort from both parties if a long-term productive career is to be forged.
The employer is responsible for making sure the working environment has a balance of experienced staff to offer the necessary training opportunities to help develop the new recruits. Most media agencies have such a balance, but I don’t believe the process is working the way it used to. This is to the detriment of all concerned.
Having been in the business for a while and having grown through the various levels, I’m aware of what a new recruit should know after a year, two years or even three to five years. Yet I am regularly disappointed by the gaps in their knowledge.
I think as an industry we’ve become soft, indulgent and accepting of mediocre performance and people. We accept far too quickly that we’re somehow at fault, or at least we could have done more, in developing the recruit’s knowledge base. We make excuses and blame ourselves. What the heck is going on?
Our business requires hands-on learning. It’s frustrating, demanding, measureable and rewarding but, above all, it needs new recruits to be committed at all times. It requires far more than just being present. From observation, beyond the basic academics, real knowledge needs to be gained via experience. It entails being involved and exercising one’s curiosity. In recent years, we’ve convinced not only ourselves but our recruits that knowledge needs to be spoon-fed through some sort of formal process in a lecturing or tutoring environment. What was a natural process of mentorship has become a clinical process where failure is someone else’s fault and where personal responsibility in the process has been abdicated.
We’re all busy, but senior professionals in our industry need to take ongoing training seriously. It needs to be less of a chore and more about pride. I’m still impressed when new staffers or youngsters speak highly of senior people and express their desire to work with them. Better still, they credit the senior person as being a major motivator in their career to date. It’s awesome!
Training and skills improvement is everyone’s personal responsibility. It fuels your competitive advantage, encourages constructive competition between peers and, more importantly, it justifies salary adjustments. There’s a general misconception that years in the industry validate a person’s seniority and thus remuneration. This is rubbish and is generally promoted by people who’re past their sell-by date and are looking to justify their salaries.
Ability is the only measure of value and thus remuneration.
So how can we make the process of mentorship more productive?
From a new recruit perspective:
- Understand that learning is your responsibility;
- Seek out and befriend knowledgeable people;
- Show enthusiasm and commitment and above all get involved. Don’t wait to be asked to help;
- Accept constructive criticism without sulking. In failure look for a learning; and
- Don’t coast. If you’re not making progress then ask for assistance.
From a mentor perspective:
- Don’t waste your time on recruits unwilling to learn;
- Have pride in sharing your knowledge;
- Remember how daunting it was when you started in the profession and how appreciative you were to get direction;
- Hold trainees accountable for delivery on deadline;
- Be constructive with your criticism. To skirt a trainee’s failure or mistakes is to be dishonest. Say it as it is; and
- Make time for those who really want to learn and weed out the losers. It’s kinder in the long run, better for business and motivates the talented people to see that there’s no place for mediocre performers.
In closing remember it’s your life, so learn, grow or move!!
Gordon Patterson is group managing director of The Starcom MediaVest Group
This story was first published in the July 2012 issue of The Media magazine.