How can mentoring further careers in media?

Whether they are chosen or 'accidental' mentors, having people to learn from at the workplace is essential, Sue Unerman and Dave Jowett say.

Sue Unerman... speed mentor
Sue Unerman... speed mentor


- How important is one-to-one mentoring in the development of staff?

Having a mentor (or, actually, normally a series of mentors) is essential to everyone's career development. Sometimes a mentor will be one organised by your employers in a structured programme. Sometimes a mentor will be an "accidental mentor" - someone you've come across who has taught you something that no formal process can teach you. One of my mentors mentioned the other day that he thinks the best mentors are the "accidental" ones. Perhaps he's right. This doesn't mean the industry should leave it to chance, but it does mean that you should always be open to that kind of influence.

- Does the industry do enough to encourage mentoring?

The industry does much more than it used to. The Nabs initiative has raised the profile of mentoring to the highest level that I can recall. But no-one need wait for encouragement to find mentors. If you look around you, you'll probably find that you have some already. Learn from them.

- What can the industry gain with continued investment? Can initiatives such as Nabs Speed Mentoring help?

Nabs Speed Mentoring is a huge profile-raiser and networking opportunity for people in our industry.

- What can both the mentor and the mentee gain from mentoring?

Above all, the mentoring relationship will give both parties a new perspective on their careers, perhaps even on their lives. It will hone listening skills. It will create new challenges for both. Sometimes people get stuck because they need someone to believe in them, and mentoring is great at delivering this to both participants. Sometimes you get stuck and you need a new technique to solve a problem. Again, this works both ways, with the benefit of experience flowing one way and a fresh, even naive, approach going the other. Both can experience the joy of being gently pushed outside their normal comfort zone. The mentoring relationship will only work if it is based on an adult-to-adult relationship (whatever the status and experience of each participant). A parent-child relationship, where the mentee sits at the feet of the mentor and waits for words of wisdom, is not really mentoring.

- Who was your mentor and what did you learn from them?

I have had a series of them. The first was Therese Aherne (my rep at The National Magazine Company), who generously gave me some advice and lent me a book that completely transformed my ability to manage my career. Others include Jan Smith (my client at Mazda and then the RAC), who taught me true bravery in marketing and how to push ideas until they nearly break, and Sally Debonnaire (the controller of production operations at the BBC), who can do everything and knows everyone.


- How important is one-to-one mentoring in the development of staff?

Career development of staff should be multi-layered in order to maximise the development and refinement of everyone's capabilities. There will be some basic training, there will be some tailored training, there might even be some highly specialised training to develop particular capabilities. However, sitting on top of all of this should be a one-to-one relationship with someone who joins it all up and helps set the future agenda with the member of staff (the mentee). In my view, yes, the mentor's role is to impart wisdom, provide expertise, share knowledge, enhance their education, enhance their careers and build their networks ... but it should be so much more. I think the best mentors become a guide to how to holistically succeed at work (and maybe a little outside of it).

- Does the industry do enough to encourage mentoring?

I don't think any industry can claim that it really does enough; our industry does a lot, but we can still do more. Many agencies offer extremely robust learning and development programmes but, in my experience, mentoring is the hurdle where many well-intentioned programmes fall down. To establish valuable mentoring requires proper commitment from both mentor and mentee. It also requires people with an aptitude for mentoring. They need to really invest in the success of others. Choosing the right people to mentor our people is therefore really important.

- What can the industry gain with continued investment? Can initiatives such as Nabs Speed Mentoring help?

It is exactly because of this lack of talented mentors in the industry that programmes such as Nabs Speed Mentoring can make a real difference. They can start to show both mentors and mentees the benefits of mentoring.

- What can both the mentor and the mentee gain from mentoring?

Both parties get time to reflect on their work, make sense of the things that are going on day to day and help each other out on tackling these issues. If the relationship develops well, there will be a trusting environment to explore all the trials and tribulations that we face in our day jobs.

- Who was your mentor and what did you learn from them?

My mentors have always been more informal than formal (a sign of the 90s media world, I'm afraid). I was also lucky enough to have different people who guided my career at different stages. In my early years, Chris Locke at MediaVest taught me how to win. At MediaCom, Mark Collins taught me that rules are sometimes there to be broken. Meanwhile, Nick Lawson was teaching me the value of defining your own future, the power of having the desire to be better every single day and also the value of having a strong moral code. Most recently, a coach called Gil Dove also doubled as a mentor. He taught me that the best way to succeed is through others. He also taught me that I should wear blue, not brown!


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