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Helping hands: the real value of mentorship in the ad industry

At its best, a good mentoring relationship can see mentees expand their professional networks, receive career advice and find a confidant to help them weather any work-related storm. Similarly, mentors can pay back the good advice they received in their junior days, while also getting to see the industry from a fresh perspective. And at a turbulent time for the industry and the world, having a friendly face to offer counsel and guidance – or simply a shoulder to cry on – can be invaluable for workers at any level.

Both informal and organized mentorships have long been popular within the ad industry, and the idea that such a relationship could be bought and sold has led to a great deal of anger of late.

Following a recent social media outcry over a junior-level ad industry worker being charged for a mentorship, an initiative has now been launched to connect mentees and mentors pro bono.

The program invites mentors from across the industry to share their contact details with those searching for guidance and experience, with a collaborative Google Doc now reaching some 90 pages long.

A good mentee and mentor relationship should be mutually beneficial, says Sara Patel, fundraising director at Nabs, with “the sharing of information and learning coming from both directions”.

“It needs to be a supportive and constructive relationship, so it’s important to have clear check-ins to monitor progress and development, but it must also be a safe and supportive space, to be honest and have an open discussion.”

Breaking down doors

The notion that mentorship could be charged for is damaging, says Gemma Butler, marketing director at The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), who states that mentorships in the industry are vital, “because they break down silos, break down doors and open up people’s perspectives“.

She adds: “If we start charging for these things then you’re effectively eradicating what mentoring is set out to do because it completely changes the dynamic.”

CIM currently runs a free mentorship through its Affiliate Professional membership package, which starts at £160 per annum. However, there are other organizations and services that currently run pro bono mentor pairing services.

Brixton Finishing School is a 10-week, free program that particularly aims to help underrepresented groups gain experience in the industry. Its head of mentorship, Maria McDowell, stresses that as well as altering the authentic, interpersonal dynamic that constitutes a successful mentoring relationship, charging for mentoring services could also create a barrier to entry for underrepresented and marginalized groups.

“I think mentorship is amazingly important, as getting to speak to people who are in those rooms that you don’t always have access to is incredibly beneficial. Another benefit for mentees is getting to know somebody with insight and lived experience who wants to help them. Many of the young people we work with have never had that access, never had somebody championing them, and you can really see it build their confidence.”

Not just for newbies

Patel from Nabs emphasizes, however, that mentorships are not solely for entry and junior level workers, but for people at any stage in their career, including working parents or people looking to pivot their careers – and that the relationships have become even more important over the last year.

“The world is in a very different place to where it was a year ago. We’ve gone through a global pandemic, we’re still going through a global pandemic. Black Lives Matter (BLM) gained momentum last year and has been a pertinent topic.

“It’s really important for people to feel connected, which is particularly difficult at the moment as most of us are still working virtually. It’s also important for people to have a safe space to discuss topics such as redundancy, career growth, the impact of Covid-19 on work and wellbeing.”

Because of these ongoing anxieties about the future and the turbulence of the last year, Patel says mentoring relationships are more important than ever as they also serve to sharpen the leadership skills of the mentors involved.

“Mentoring relationships enable everyone, as a collective, to share their insights, which can then help inform their business decisions, how we make and manage policies and how we manage organizational change.

“They are a great opportunity for mentors themselves to listen, learn and adapt to the culture, as well as evolve as leaders. We see these relationships as more crucial than ever as we continue to work from home indefinitely.”

Helping hands

Kev Chesters, partner at Harbour Collective and former Ogilvy chief strategy officer, says that for senior leaders with expertise and a comfortable income, there is no reason why mentorship should not be offered free of charge.

“All senior leaders who’ve been lucky enough to have a career and make a few bob should mentor people,” he says.

Speaking on the practical ways in which people in leadership positions can help, he says. “Start by understanding your target audience. Treat it like any strategy project. What do they want to get out of it? What drives them? What’s the ultimate objective and how can you help define a strategy to help them get there?

“Try to give simple and practical advice and commit. Commit, don’t wimp out or bunk off. I’ve loved the mentoring I’ve done. I’ve got so much out of it because you get out what you put in on both sides.”

He says he always tries to mentor people who aren’t like him, tending to prioritize people he thinks wouldn’t just sail into the industry. "That’s why it’s so important to do it pro bono if you can – and most senior leaders are comfy enough to give an hour of their time away for free!

“Diversity of thought, diversity of personality and diversity of background is really important to provide original thinking in our industry. Free mentoring is vital for that to make sure as many people as possible get a leg up into the industry that they might not have had before.”

Brixton Finishing School alumni Priscilla Britton and Krystal D’Anjou agree that mentorship has been a vital experience for them as they look to enter the workforce in this challenging period.

“Mentoring has been a space for me to speak privately, be coached through situations and work through thoughts and concerns,” says Britton. ”I have been able to speak in confidence to someone who understands the industry and is able to share informed objectives and welcome advice.

“Through the actions identified in these conversations, I secured a role at Adam&EveDDB during a pandemic! I hope more people invest time into helping others, like me, navigate a full career in this industry.

“Money shouldn’t be a barrier to realizing your potential or accessing education in school or at work. Think of how indebted we’d be to each other if we had to pay for every act of help we received.”

D’Anjou sees why, when it comes to ’paying’ for a mentor, people would do it. ”In some cases, you really are getting that insider information that mentors don’t want to share with everyone else, but it comes down to that whole exclusivity thing.

“There are plenty of amazingly talented people who might not necessarily be able to pay a mentoring fee but are still as deserving as those who can. Everyone should be given equal opportunities.”

As we enter uncertain economic territory due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it will be more important than ever that those at the top use their power to assist their colleagues and employees in any way they can – whether that be by offering help with contacts and guidance, or simply by providing a safe space and a willing ear.