Does it pay to have a PR mentor?

Two lessons that Sally Costerton, director of PR consultancy, Sally Costerton Advisory, learnt from her mentor are to be flexible and creative. Costerton describes a key experience at the start of her PR career that underlines the importance of these: “I got into PR by accident at University. In a moment of madness a friend and I decided that we wanted to run for the student union for the Rag and Charities seat which involved putting on the college Rag Week. We were offered help by other union members who took pity on us after one stunt backfired spectacularly. It involved organising a team of physics students to 'capture' the Cambridge Union president for the weekend. The idea was that the union members would pay to 'release' him to raise money for charity, but they didn't want him back and we had to dip into our funds to get him a train ticket home."

"We had to learn flexibility, ingenuity and compromise – all things that Trevor Morris, then CEO of the Quentin Bell Organisation, developed further in me when I worked with him for nearly a decade. He was a great mentor for me, also instilling the importance of balancing clear thinking (if you can't get a plan on a page in a clear diagram you haven't though it through well enough) with pragmatism. Mentoring comes in all shapes and sizes and sometimes when you least expect it.”

Not only do mentors appear when you aren‘t looking but: “Sometimes the best mentors are the ones you didn't even know you had”, adds Reema Mitra, account manager at PR firm, Edelman. Mitra describes a turning point in her career: “When my internship ended at Porter Novelli, I asked the head of corporate if I could stay on. He said, ‘We'd happily have you here. But you should go try everything when you're young’. He was right and after a year and a half at a traditional agency in New York, I went to a small digital shop leading me to end up at Edelman in the digital practice – which offers the best of both worlds.”

Jill Hawkins, director at agency, Aniseed PR, says her mentor offered invaluable advice for over ten years. She met him at her first job in a B2B agency in Northamptonshire: “One of the directors was a lovely chap called Richard McCann, we shared the same sense of humour and a love of classic cars and he became my mentor. He always encouraged me to achieve more and managed to help me get promoted, first to account director and then to the board. When he left the agency I was devastated, so I left too and we set up an agency together – Friday’s Media Group."

"Again, he encouraged me to believe that I could do it. I was only 28 and I would never had the courage or self-belief to set up my own business at that age. We were business partners for over ten years and throughout that time he always encouraged me and supported my plans and dreams. We parted company about three years ago as I wanted to work on my own again to give myself more flexibility to spend time with my family, but he will always stand as the reason I am where I am today.”

For Helen Campbell, consultant at agency, Illuminate Communications, a key role model is Maxine McKenzie, now head of marketing at Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Campbell explains: “McKenzie combines passion for her job with a lovely sense of clarity in her communications. She was a senior member of the Directgov marketing team when I began consulting there as a PRO, and it's no surprise she has gone on to work with names like Cadbury and RIBA. She won the award for 'Clarity' in an internal ceremony at Directgov and we joked about it a bit as colleagues do, but we all knew well before the certificate arrived on her desk that she values clear, honest communication."

"Max regularly reminds me of the importance of asking the essential questions: ‘What's the purpose of this project?’, or ‘What does success look like?’. She also speaks from the heart and brings her likeable personality into her work.”

Written by Daney Parker