August 19, 2010
By R. Devin Hughes
Recently, the SVP of professional and government relations at Cardinal Health spoke to the intern class, giving background about her job and providing helpful advice. One thing she said that really stuck out to me was, “you have a responsibility to help the people below you get promoted.” Looking at how ImPRessions has developed in my time with the firm, I couldn’t agree more.
As an account executive or supervisor, you might be tempted to think “success” means that your account produced strong results for your client this year. While that is great, I think you are missing the higher-level goal: contribute to the long-term growth and stellar reputation of the firm. ImPRessions might be on your résumé for a long time, and therefore, you will always want the firm to be in high regard with those who are familiar with its activities.
Of course, at that point, you are no longer with the firm, meaning you can’t directly impact the quality of its work. The only way you are able to play a part in ImPRessions’ future is by fostering leadership in its present. As an account executive or PRSSA mentor, I went to great lengths to help develop the raw talent I saw. Today, many of my former associates/mentees make up the ImPRessions or PRSSA executive boards, and I know that they will do a good job because I’ve had the privilege of watching them develop into PR superstars (to borrow a phrase from former OU professor and always leader-developer Michelle Honald).
So how do I recommend you do this? Everyone has their own styles, but I’ve compiled a list of tips that I’ve found to be helpful over the years:
Identify passion, not pedigree
Seriously. The freshman who knows nothing about PR but wants to be involved with ImPRessions is much more valuable than the junior with three internships who just devotes what little spare time he/she has to your account. The junior may be tactically stronger, but the freshman is the one who will want to make the firm better, especially if you are there to help him/her stay enthused and develop. You can teach PR; you can’t teach passion.
Get them involved
Once you’ve identified that hunger, you need to feed it. Give them more responsibilities. Ask them what they want to learn or if they have ideas for the account, then let them run with it. Most of our clients are open to new ideas if we’re able to execute them, so take advantage of that and go nuts. These people want to be involved, and if you’re able to get them excited about what they’re doing and feeling as if they’re getting a lot done, you’ve basically reeled them in. Look for the forward leaning in meetings, the fire in their eyes or the more subtle “ImPRessions 4 Life” tattooed on their arms.
Be available and approachable
Seems like a no-brainer, but I really mean go out of your way to be there. Would my ideal midnights involve phone calls from hysterical associates who are giving up on PR, the world and men? Probably not, but I take them anyway because I feel a responsibility to do so. You aren’t just their boss, you’re their mentor. Embrace it. I humorously added the “men” part, but it does touch on the fact that I think you should be there for them for any life-related ordeal, not just PR-related. Happy associates are helpful associates.
I admit I have to make a concerted effort on this one, as I am notoriously demanding and have high expectations, so sometimes I take it for granted when those expectations are met because I feel they should have been met. But you need them to feel like their great work has been noticed, and more importantly, you need to instill confidence. If Nick thinks he sucks at PR, I really doubt he’ll apply for a leadership position with the firm. To apply, he needs to believe he can do it, and to believe, he needs you to tell him he can do it. Often, I’ll straight up ask the person, “Are you thinking of applying for account executive? I think you should.” It meant a lot to me when I heard it, and I bet it will mean a lot to anyone else.
Tell the world
Involved as I’d like to think I am, I have to admit I probably won’t personally get to know every member of the firm, so how am I supposed to know where the top talent is? You have to tell me. You have to tell everyone. That person will have a harder time getting promoted if nobody has heard of him/her. If you aren’t making sure the right people know how great a person’s work/enthusiasm is, you are really doing that person a disservice.
That’s how I do it. If you have other suggestions, I’d love to hear them. Any way you do it, the goal is universal: build an empire. The firm needs to be outstanding this year, five years from now and even fifteen years from now when I’m in my thirties and probably dead. ImPRessions 4 Life.