Communications & Mentorship: A Neighbour’s Perspective

Let me introduce myself. My name is Katie-Ann Wallace, and I am an Account Coordinator at The Neighbourhood Agency. This is my first “real gig” since graduating from University. I’ve learned a lot since joining The Neighbourhood, not the least of which is that great mentors are an integral part of my development. So, I thought I would provide some insights into the world of mentorship, and my research into this space.

In April 2019, as my final assignment before graduation, I submitted my undergraduate thesis on mentorship, specifically the relationship within mentorships. I chose this topic on behalf of personal lessons and tips I’ve learned through my years being a mentee. Mentorship is a necessary foundation for growth, in my opinion, and during my research I highlighted the benefits of the relationship on both parties involved.

My thesis was developed on a list of questions I had regarding mentorship in the field and how to make the most of learning from individuals who would be considered “OG’s” in the communications space. I wanted to get an understanding of who and where was offering mentorship. What did that look like? Was it a program or an individualized set up? And for professionals currently working in Communications, what did mentorship look like when they were starting? I was a soon-to-be new graduate and had received quite a bit of mentorship very early, but after speaking to my peers I was curious why having mentors wasn’t more common.

I started my research looking through countless academic journals which reported on the effects mentorship has on new professionals and the contribution it makes to their continued success. Mentorship has been prominent in medicine, engineering and business. In some cases, it was a requirement that new hires be paired with seasoned professionals to assist in laying an optimal foundation for their success in a company or in their field in general. Often times those mentorships would result in mentors naming their protégés and successors. Mentorship is an opportunity to groom individuals for success. Business, medicine and engineering are just a few of the fields that seem to have a strong and well documented understanding of how and where it plays a large role in development.

Communications, unfortunately, was not as well documented. The articles and journals reporting on the field were few and far between. Mentorship did exist, but was  harder to glean any insights.

There are a couple of major Communications organizations in the Canadian market, though, including the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS). As a public relations major, CPRS was known throughout my four years as the go-to organization for Communications professionals. It was considered the place to start making the majority of your connections for both formal and informal mentorships, job opportunities, and overall learning within the community. While interviewing my participants, however, I found many of them did not use formal programs to seek mentors. This was due to lack of options, and many programs required financial contribution and time. Not everyone was able to contribute both while being a full-time student or working full-time. As a result, participants recalled being in their first or second job and realizing they needed more support beyond watching their superiors work and asking questions. They recall raising their hands to the person they admired the most and simply asking for the extra support and eventually developing a mutually beneficial relationship.

Mentorship has received quite a bit of attention in recent years. Highly successful individuals are now constantly speaking on the benefits of mentorship when developing skills and all-around confidence in work and life. As a result, there has also been an influx of mentorship programs across many fields.

I found the concept “closed mouths don’t get fed” tends to ring true when seeking informal mentorship. These are the relationships developed through research and simply reaching out. Participants recalled seeking these relationships from individuals they admired. They were individuals chosen by the mentee as opposed to being appointed. They were often the longest lasting mentee-mentor relationships and would crossover between gaining skills in the work place, to having an individual to advocate for them and guide them through personal obstacles and large-scale life events.

And through it all, though quite a few people I spoke with had seen great benefits from mentorship in the past, most of them were not currently mentoring anyone. I found this interesting as they had such positive experiences with developing these relationships, it would be assumed that they would reciprocate. When asked “why they were not mentoring?”, the most common answer was time and lack of outreach. No one was asking. Some participants were mentoring through work appointed programs, often interns. And one participant was receiving mentorship in several different career-focused areas as she was expanding and diversifying her skillset. My question at this point is why weren’t they being asked? New graduates, current students and new professionals should be yearning to learn from their seasoned counter parts. But, do they know these opportunities exist and how to set the motion of acquiring them?

Wanting a mentor is one thing. Knowing how to start that conversation is another step for young professionals. Aside from wanting to learn from a mentor, a mutually beneficial relationship where both partners get something out of it, will ensure a long lasting and supportive partnership.

As communicators, how do we help create a foundation for new professionals to receive the tools they need to have lasting careers? To begin with, schools can develop more programs outside of co-ops and internships that get the wheels turning and connecting students to individuals in the field during their studies. I’m sure there are a multitude of other ways to encourage more mentorship opportunities within the Communications world, and would love to hear your thoughts on this subject too.

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Not My First Rodeo: An Agency Owner’s Experience

Entrepreneurship can be an intimidating concept for many people. How do I do it? Can I afford to go out on my own? Where are my customers going to come from? What are we going to offer that differs from everyone else? These are all questions that I’m sure we’ve all asked ourselves when we contemplate going out on our own. And they are all very important.

There is no simple solution or magic recipe that will guarantee success. If it were that easy, I’m sure we would all prefer to work for ourselves and set our own rules — live the dream! Trust me, it’s not. It takes endless hard work, determination and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. I have been here before, and learned a lot of incredibly important lessons over the years. Many of these learnings are going to be key to the success of my new venture — The Neighbourhood Agency. And I plan to succeed!

As I set out to build The Neighbourhood Agency, which we launched in January 2019,  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about all of these questions, and working through the solutions that I believe will bring about the business that I envision. Here are a few of the key learnings that I want to share for those who may be going down this path and are looking for some support:

Build a Plan

When I started my first agency, I really just flew by the seat of my pants. I sold my home, packed up my car and traveled across the country on a hunch. It’s not that I didn’t think about it a lot, or take it seriously, but I honestly didn’t create a plan. I relied on my knowledge, relationships and skills to start it up and keep it going. Those were all critical elements, but without having a plan to work from and towards, I’m certain that I didn’t leverage any opportunity as much as I could and should have. We would never recommend to our clients that they just go to market without a solid strategy and goals and objectives to measure our success. So why are our businesses any different? They aren’t.

I worked on that business for close to 10 years, and I believe that it was quite successful, but I really have no gauge, other than the fact that I had a number of great clients and I paid my bills. Could it have been bigger? Could our profits have been higher? Why were some years better than others? Those are questions that I honestly can’t answer, because I didn’t have a plan to refer to or learn from.

I closed down that agency about 4 years ago, and went back to working “for someone else.” And it was during this time working within a larger organization, that I was able to glean  knowledge from many other seasoned entrepreneurs, including the importance of planning.

So, when I developed the concept around The Neighbourhood Agency, I started with a plan, and I know that this venture will be successful BECAUSE of a plan, not despite it. 

Learn from Mistakes

Everyone makes them, but we don’t all understand that they provide us with more learnings than any win can. Dig deep.

While my first agency was a great experience, there were many things that I learned from it. Part of it was just growing pains, but a big part was also ignoring the areas that needed attention. It’s human nature for us to not want to face the challenges we don’t like, or aren’t confident in our knowledge of, but in my experience, those are EXACTLY the areas that we should focus on. Learn from these and take that knowledge to ensure your next plan, program or business excels in that area.

Again, when we work with clients, we always provide them with insights into challenges we ran into, what could be done better next time, and the key learnings from the program. Make sure you do this for your own business too! It is a great feeling to look back and realize that you’ve been able to conquer something that previously kicked your ass.

Work for Yourself, Not by Yourself

Networking is King. Don’t know something? Ask. Need some advice? Ask. But also make sure that you are open to providing the same. There is nothing worse than someone who is always looking for your help, but never giving in return.

Stay in touch with people. Ask them out for a coffee or a beer. Be genuinely engaged in what is going on in their life — personally and professionally — and reach out when they have some positive news in their world. And, just as importantly (if not moreso), reach out when they have something challenging going on in their life. Just as you would a friend or family member, it’s important to ask “How can I help?” Don’t just be there for the highlights, dig in for the low notes too. It is vitally important to make time for others and help them whenever you can. You never know how they may be able to support you and your goals. And, it just feels good.

Mentors, work groups and business coaches are also extremely helpful to guide you along the way, and to inspire you to strive for more. Find someone that you respect and who is knowledgeable in the areas you want to excel at, and create a relationship with them. If you can find someone that you can provide guidance to in another area, that’s a win-win. Hold each other accountable for your progress, and take time to celebrate small (and big) wins together.

That’s exactly why I started The Neighbourhood Agency.  We want to create an environment where communications professionals from all different areas can work together to build something great and deliver unmatched results for our clients. We are a collective of independent and small businesses that have determined that we are better together. We are creating an agency environment where we can all succeed independently and as a collective too.

I’ve been in the agency world for a long time, and I love that I can continue to learn every day. There are always new experiences, new clients, and new friends along the way.

So, my advice, if you want to take it: Take the risk, but make sure you’re ready for it to be as awesome as you can possibly imagine. Be prepared. Keep learning. Build a network.

It’s worth it.


A version of this post originally appeared on SpinSucks


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What Makes a Great Neighbourhood?

As I drove home from my road trip to California (details to come in another post, I promise!), I thought a lot about The Neighbourhood Agency, why I was drawn to the name, and the concept behind it. And that got me thinking about all of my experience with the neighbourhoods I’ve been lucky to be part of until now.

I was one of those kids who never moved during childhood. I lived in Kingston, in the same house, for more than 20 years. It was all I knew. It was a great neighbourhood for so many reasons. That’s where I met my first friend, and many more. We played in our driveways, or in the streets, coming home when the street lights came on, or when our “louder” neighbour called for her son to come for dinner. Our neighbours were always patient with us as we grew up, had parties and became a bit louder than we’d been as kids. And while a lot of those times were fun, there were also some times where we needed support. And our neighbours were always there for that. It could be as simple as taking in our mail when we were away, but there were also many more serious events like family deaths, where we knew our neighbours were there for us. They were more than neighbours, they were, and still are, our friends.

I lived in a number of other great places throughout the years, but I don’t think my next true “neighbourhood” formed until I moved to Sudbury Street in Toronto. Once again, it was a place where neighbours became friends. We helped each other out, held garage sales together, looked after plants and pets, and perhaps had a few beverages together from time to time.

And then I moved to Vancouver. I found my true Neighbourhood when I moved to the Olympic Village. This is my place. Why was it so different? Friends. People from all different backgrounds. People who work in all different kinds of industries. With kids. Without. With dogs. Without. But we ALWAYS support each other. Even if you move away, you’re still part of this Neighbourhood. This is how things should be.

So…how does that translate into a business model?

I see The Neighbourhood Agency in the same way. We are here for each other. To support each other. Build each other up. We have created a place where we bring together great people with different backgrounds who provide unique insights, experience and skills. We may have different goals for our lives and businesses, but at the end of the day, we want to see everyone succeed.

And, while we know this is a great concept for our team, we believe it will also provide great benefits for our clients. Our team of incredibly diverse professionals will deliver amazing results to ensure our clients experience success. We all believe that being a great Neighbour is incredibly important, so whether it’s a PR and marketing program, or just a cup of milk or sugar, we’re here for you.

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