The Gift of Mentorship
When I was 25, I landed a job as an associate editor for a magazine for elementary school teachers. I had been unhappy in my previous position and unsure of my next step, and getting this job was, in every sense of the word, a gift. Allen Raymond was the publisher and president, and everyone – including the editorial director with whom he started the magazine – called him Mr. Raymond (old, old school!). He was the former advertising director for McCall’s, and I loved hearing his war stories about wooing clients – for example, he was after Sanka (remember Sanka?!) to advertise but was struggling to get the account. He had to visit a photo shoot for an upcoming issue where it was a kitchen setup and suddenly got the idea to place a jar of Sanka on set with the label facing out. He sent the story along to Sanka and thus signed the account. Mr. Raymond ordered a scotch and water before a flight, wore a jacket and tie every day, organized his entire life via pocket calendar and, despite my youth and absolute greenness, inexplicably and totally believed in me.
That job was the best place in the world to become seasoned, and there were so many practices I learned there that I still use today. Admittedly, there’s a lot that’s delightfully yesteryear in the wisdom Mr. Raymond imparted, but here are a few of his guidelines that I cherish:
- Be your brand or organization’s steward. Always. The first time we traveled together to a trade show, Mr. Raymond pulled me aside and said, “For the next three days, no matter where you go – even if it’s just to the bathroom – make sure you carry a copy of the magazine with you. And always have the front cover facing out.” I agreed and soon enough I got the reasoning behind this mandate. Wherever I went, people – longtime readers, people unfamiliar with the magazine, current advertisers, prospects – would stop and comment on something they read in the issue, something they’d like to see, ask to have a rep get in touch with regard to their ad schedule, or sometimes it was just to say thanks. It was a great way of subconsciously getting the word out and also learning to be an ambassador of the brand.
- Know when to stop selling and listen. Look past the hard sell. Sometimes what seems like the obvious route may not be the best route to take … at the present time. I remember being on a sales call with an ad rep, and beforehand Mr. Raymond told her, “Don’t push too hard on full pages – I spoke to them last week and they just don’t have the budget this year. They wanted to drop out but I got them to agree to this meeting and at least hear us out.” They convinced the advertiser to come in at a reduced schedule, but the next year they bought a full page in every issue.
- Never be without a notebook, pen or your business card. You never know when inspiration or opportunity is going to strike. Technology is amazing, no doubt, but sometimes just sitting and putting an actual pen to actual paper affords you the time to really think something through. I was weirdly touched on my first day at SiriusDecisions when, in addition to my laptop, I was handed a Black n’ Red book – everyone in the organization gets one! Swoon!
- When time allows, send a handwritten thank-you note. I can remember grousing about this one with other editors and the ad reps, but this is an art form that’s in danger of becoming a relic. I know life moves fast, but sending an honest-to-goodness thank-you note when you have the time is a great way to set yourself and your organization apart from competitors by showing that you sincerely appreciate your clients, sources or other key stakeholders.
Needless to say, the magazine where I worked with Mr. Raymond was eventually scuttled, like so many others in the digital era, and I’m a long way from 25, but so much of who I am as a professional, how I’ve grown as an editor and writer, is in large part due to being mentored by people who saw the potential in me and selflessly did whatever they could to foster it. And, at the great risk of taking a swan dive into sycophantism, I see SiriusDecisions’ Rich Eldh, John Neeson and Tony Jaros as real-deal mentors of that old-school ilk. In the year and a half I’ve spent at SiriusDecisions, I still find myself marveling at how endlessly supportive, genial and perhaps most important, present they are for a team that is growing in literal leaps and bounds. As we recently closed out our corporate year, I watched them celebrate our progress with genuine affection for the entire team and real pride and joy in individual successes. What a gift!
We’ve all been at the bottom of the pile at some point or had to start over, and there are incredible, meaningful things we all can be sharing with a younger colleague or someone who is perhaps unsure of where the next turn in their career path lies. What steps are you taking to serve as a mentor in your organization? Let’s hear all about it in the comments below!
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