Five key things my mentors taught me
I’m involved in a couple of professional groups that are big into mentoring, which has me reflecting on how lucky I was to have great mentors and role models in the early, formative years of my career. Let’s face it, the ad/agency/marketing industry is not exactly known for excellence in mentoring and training programs; the phrase “trial by fire” comes to mind. So, I thought I would share a few of the lessons that were shared with me early on, in hopes that they might help some young ‘uns new to their advertising or marketing careers. (Gayla, Lisa, Peggy and John, this one’s for you.)
You exist to make your bosses’ lives easier. There are times when challenging authority is appropriate, even necessary. And we certainly don’t want “yes people” who never question anything. But more often than not, you need to be really listening to and acting on the input you are given and asking how you can help instead of putting up roadblocks. Chances are, as a young person in the industry, the people you report to are much, much, MUCH busier than you. So I recommend that you do all you can to help them. It’s how you will advance.
[Tangent: I wonder if the “Millennials” reading this will be offended at the suggestion that they have bosses and hierarchy? Trust me, we want and value your opinions, and social media has trained us all to be more democratic, but work is not a democracy. Not really. I hope I’m not coming across as condescending here, but I have observed a potent “You’re not the boss of me.” vibe in some – not all – of the “Millennials” with whom I have worked. Bonus points to anyone who can help me truly understand this generation and how they work – enlighten me in the comments. I beg you.]
Underpromise and overdeliver. This is the best piece of client service advice that I ever heard and the same holds true of managing your supervisors’ expectations. Never, ever make promises that you can’t keep. Not keeping commitments kills trust faster than you can say “unemployment.” Conversely, setting expectations that you exceed wins every time.
Check your work. Then check it again. I started my career on an airline account, where if there was a typo in a fare ad, it could be a seven-figure mistake. Sloppy work is just not acceptable. No one is perfect (see below), but job hunters, I’m telling you right now that if there are typos in your resume or email, you are done. *Poof*. In the bin. No chance of employment. We don’t have time to correct your work so you need to demonstrate that you care enough to do great work in the first place.
Don’t try to hide your mistakes. Check your work as you will, you will still make mistakes. In cultures of innovation, it is actually encouraged. In servicing clients, not so much. Yet, it happens, particularly in the trial by fire scenario mentioned earlier. Fresh out of college, I failed to cancel a $75,000 ad placement on time; I simply had no clue about space closing dates and when the ad had to be cancelled. Shortly thereafter, there was a cease and desist order on an ad that hadn’t gone through legal. I was absolutely horrified and for a time, I’m pretty sure I actually hid the file under my desk in hopes that it would disappear. In a lesser organization, I might have been fired. But my mentors understood that I simply didn’t have the information and experience at the time to have possibly known any better. If you are in a gig where you feel like you have to hide your mistakes, you should probably look for a new one.
Toot your own horn. In the wonderful new-ish world of social media, we’re not supposed to talk too much about ourselves. In our careers, though, it is essential. Your boss may well be too busy to take note of your hard work and your accomplishments, other than maybe at your annual or semi-annual review. Therefore, as long as you doing it with tact, it is a good idea to merchandise yourself to them now and then. If a client praises you, pass it along. Update people on your progress. If you are functioning as an island, and no one knows what you are doing, it may seem like a good thing. Trust me…it’s not.
If you can do those five things, you’ll build yourself a nice little suit of kevlar to get through the trial by fire. An advertising or marketing career is not an easy one; but it can one of the most multi-faceted, creative, challenging and fun ones. Don’t be scared. : ]
What about you? What have you learned so far?