The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations and DePaul PRSSA hosted the annual Student Mentoring Session at DePaul University. Students had the opportunity to ask the seven “Milestones in Mentoring” honorees tough questions such as how to stand out from the competition, how to be a good mentor and how to effectively network.
The seven honorees answered questions ranging from how to effectively network, to diversity and inclusion in the workplace. They gave advice to whether a graduate degree is imperative for success in the profession and the best way to navigate undergraduate and graduate programs while gaining invaluable industry experience. Each panelist spoke to their own personal experience and provided the students with tips for success in the public relations field.
A special thanks to General Motors, Tenneco, Ron Culp, Jim Mother, Andrew Willett, DePaul University, Perfect Cut Productions, Martin Williams, Capstone Agency and Jessika White for making this event happen.
Ron Culp: Someone puts this together every year that is always in the background. That’s a lot about what goes on in public relations. Usually, at the end, somebody says oh by the way, I want to thank somebody who really is responsible for this and that’s Jim Motzer. Thank you, Jim. There’s a lot of effort that goes into this. We are streaming this on Facebook Live so we want to get right to the program because we have a lot of questions that we want to ask and we really want this to be all about the questions you want to ask.
I also want to quickly mention my co-chair for The Plank Center Milestones for Mentoring and that’s Bill Heyman. Say hello, Bill. Dr. Karla Gower who is our executive director of The Plank Center is also there, wave Karla. Welcome Julia Hood who is another board member who has just arrived as well, thank you. It’s really exciting for me to turn the program over to the president of the DePaul PRSSA chapter. Somebody who has been doing this almost now for two years and this is a group that has more fun on Monday evenings then should be legal on a college campus and it’s all because of Andrew, Andrew Willett.
Andrew Willett: My name is Andrew. I’m DePaul PRSSA chapter president and I’m honored to introduce tonight’s fabulous honorees of The Plank Center’s Milestones and Mentoring Awards. Bob Feldman is this year’s legacy honoree. Bob is the co-founder and partner of PulsePoint Group, a management and digital consulting firm providing insight, strategy development and strategic execution for communications and marketing management challenges. With a specialty focus on social and digital engagement, Bob has advised such clients like Bristol-Myers Squibb, CVS Health, Disney, Hilton Worldwide, Johnson & Johnson, Kaiser Permanente, Novartis, Toyota, Visa and Wells Fargo. Previously, Bob was with Dreamworks Animation as the company’s first head of corporate communications and corporate marketing. Bob lived in New York and was for eight years, president and chief executive officer of GCI Group. Before GCI, he held senior positions with Ketchum and Burson-Marsteller.
Bob authors monthly columns in PR Week’s Magazine focused on management of the corporate communications function. He also teaches a graduate level course in corporate relations at the University of Southern California. Bob serves on the board of trustees with the Page Society, the chair of the 2018 Page Annual Conference and leads the association’s initiative of online learning. He contributes time to several important organizations, the USC Shoah foundation, an organization dedicated to making audio/visual interviews with Holocaust survivors and other genocides, a compelling voice for education and action and the Global Health Corps and Seeds of Peace.
Bob Jimenez is this year’s corporate honoree. Bob is the Senior Vice president of Corporate Affairs at Cox Enterprises. He is responsible for leading internal and external communications, digital communications, public affairs, issues management and crisis preparedness. Prior to joining Cox in 2003, he was director of the global communications practice in internal marketing at AFC Enterprises. In 1999, Bob joined Walt Disney World Resorts as manager of public affairs serving an official spokesperson for the resort. In 1997, Bob launched Jiménez Pinzón International, a multicultural marketing communications consultancy specializing in Hispanic market entry strategies. Bob is the chair of the Latin American Association. He also serves as a board member for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, the Alliance Cedar and Mount Paran Christian School and is a member of the Page Society as well.
Bob earned his MBA from Rollins College, and his Bachelors in Business Administration from Southern Adventist University where he was recognized as alumnus of the year in 2015. He has been recognized with the Individual Achievement Award by LaAmistad and in 2017 with the Leadership Excellence Award at the National Diversity Council of Georgia Leadership Conference. Bob is an Atlanta Catalyst Award winner and past co-chair of the Diversity Committee for PRSSA Georgia. Hispanic Business Magazine named Bob one of the 100 most influential Hispanics in America in 2007.
Dale Bornstein is this year’s agency honoree. Dale joined M Booth as CEO in October 2013. Under her leadership, the agency has nearly doubled in size and has been awarded every industry accolade including overall agency of the year and best place to work twice. Dale led the firm’s drive towards integration and expansion by deepening and building new capacities and recruiting best in class talent resulting in the agency’s most successful period of client acquisition and revenue growth to date. Prior to joining M Booth, Dale was a senior partner, director of global practices and a member of the nine-person worldwide executive team of Ketchum where she worked for more than 25 years. At Ketchum, she was responsible for the evolution and growth of the agency’s five global practices. Dale has recently been appointed a three-year term to the board of PR Council. She is a member of Women in Communication and has served as a judge for the Industry and Marketing Award programs including PR Week, Silver Anvils and the Effie Awards. To round it out, Dale has been named to PR Week’s Power List twice.
Dr. Cathy Rogers is this year’s education honoree. She joined the Loyola faculty in 1990. Cathy’s work with students in a prestigious national public relations program has placed the school of mass communication in the national spotlight. Of Loyola’s 13 years in the Bateman Case Study Competition sponsored by PRSSA, Rogers’ students have earned national recognition every year, four of those years her team has placed first in the competition. You actually beat my team two years ago. Rogers earned her Ph.D. in journalism and mass communication from the Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University where she also earned a certificate of the Contemporary History Institute. In 2013, Rogers was named Educator of the Year by the Public Relations Association of Louisiana. As the strategic communications sequence head, Rogers has taught the public relations foundation courses as well as cases, campaigns and public relations writing. She also teaches media and gender, a course about the role of media in conception of gender and race.
Eric Winkfield is this year’s emerging leader honoree. Eric joined Pepco, a public utility company owned by Exelon that provides service to customers in Washington D.C. and surrounding communities in Maryland as a communications specialist in January 2017 and now serves as the Public Affairs Manager. After completing his bachelor’s degree in public relations from Florida A&M University, Eric attended West Virginia University for a master’s degree in integrated marketing communications. Eric served on the National Committee of PRSSA as the vice president of advocacy. During his term, he led a national program on ethics, diversity and inclusion for the society. Eric is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and serves on the board of advisors for After School All Stars in Washington, D.C. Eric is passionate about advocating and helping others grow to become their best and authentic selves. His career goal is to be a senior communications executive for a Fortune 500 company or government agency. However, his life goal is to pour into others the positive influence and guidance that has helped shaped him.
Gregg Sherrill is this year’s executive honoree. Gregg was CEO of Tenneco. He announced his retirement in early 2018 yet continues to serve as chairman of the board in a non-executive capacity. Upon retirement, Sherrill caps more than 40 years of a career in the automotive industry. Under his leadership as CEO, Tenneco established a strong record of revenue growth, high earnings and margin expansions. Gregg aligned with the company around a vision and a strategic direction. Prior to joining in 2007, he was with Johnson Controls where he served as president of the Power Solutions Group, the company’s global automotive battery business.
Gregg began his 40-year career in the automotive industry with Ford Motor Company where he served a broad range of engineering and manufacturing positions over 22 years. He holds a BS in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University and an MBA from Indiana University’s Kelly School of Business. Gregg currently serves as a member of the board of directors of the Allstate Corporation and Snap-on Inc. Additionally, he is the Honoree Vice Chair of the Board of the National Association of Manufacturers, where he is past chairman of the board, and also serves on the National Governing Council of the Wilderness Society.
Finally, Tom Burrell is this year’s Betsy Plank honoree. Tom established Burrell Communications in 1971 and led the company through 2004. Tom is known for his experience in reaching African-American and urban youth markets. By recognizing the unique qualities of the African-American consumer market, Tom spear-headed some of the most memorable campaigns in advertising history. A fun fact, a reel of Burrell’s advertisements for Coke are currently in the Library of Congress and have been archived for its historical significance. Tom retired in 2004 and wrote Brainwashed, Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority. Brainwashed received many notable reviews including being named one of the 65 greatest books about race in Ebony Magazine’s 65th anniversary issue.
Tom has garnered numerous prestigious awards including the introduction to One Club’s Hall of Fame, the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Fame, Advertising Person of the Year, the Albert Lasker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Advertising, and the DuSable History Museum Award. Advertising Age named Tom one of the 50 Who Made a Difference and named Tom among the top 100 advertising people who have helped shape the industry. Legally blind since the age of 27, Tom was presented with the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998.
Without further ado, we will open up the floor to questions surrounding diversity, networking, internship, preparedness and mentorship to our students in the room and our students and those who are joining us over Facebook Live.
Bob Feldman: Unfortunately, we only time now for one question.
Andrew Willett: Yes. One second.
Student: Thank you. Hi, I’m Serge Izerati, Indiana University Northwest. My question is for Bob Jimenez. As a first generation Hispanic-American, going into this field I really had no idea how I wanted to go about networking and all that sort of ideals and such. Because you know, I have difficulty even explaining to my parents what it is I do. To this day, they’re still like, “get a real job.” I’ve been working hard, I’ve been helping them out as well because being the oldest of three brothers and such too. How do you go about maintaining your sanity in a sense too, through all of this? Having to go into this with no real connection beforehand, helping your parents out who barely speak English, and helping raise two younger brothers who are holding you to the example of that?
Bob Jimenez:Wow, first of all I commend you on what you are embarking upon right now. That is a big road ahead of you and I admire what you’re doing. It’s interesting because I remember having the same conversations with my parents. They never really understood what it was that I did, but they were able to see things that were happening in my life and improvements that were happening in my life that were as a result of my work. Also, they knew I was happy and they knew I was pursuing something that I loved, that I was passionate about, that was really meaningful for me in a career. My dad has since passed away, my mom is older. They never really understood it but that’s okay. They knew that I landed in a good place, I was happy, I was able to fulfill my dreams.
On the networking piece, I would encourage you to cast as wide a net as possible and interact with and reach out to as many people, and be really intentional about it, don’t be shy, and be very specific about what it is you want from a particular individual. You will be rewarded for that and so will they so don’t be shy about that, go for it.
Student: Thank you so much.
Andrew Willett: We’ll take the next question now.
Student: Thanks. Hi, I’m Mani Chiconis, Indiana University, Purdue University Indianapolis, a mouthful. Our question on behalf of many students here is in regards to networking. Do you more or less find that hiring comes from a previous relationship you’ve had with a student or someone who is coming in on an entry level position as opposed to making a cold call or sending an email without having any connection to the company or organization that you are pursuing? This is for anybody.
Dale Bornstein:I’ll jump in. Great question. What I would tell you is that I think that it is great to always try to find a sixth degree of separation because here’s the dirty little secret, it is who you know as much as what you know. I think when you can make that connection obviously, your resume, your email rises to the top. That’s not to say that if you find the right place who share your values, hopefully they share the interest in also responding to you without any prior connection. But if you can, think about it. I will tell you this, when you do think about it, you will absolutely find a way to get to the place you want to get. You’ll find people who know people, so keep asking. As Bob said, a wide, wide net. Don’t be bashful, ask for help. I think a lot of people want to help young people get started in the business and it’s really gratifying when you can help launch them. Ask for help, don’t be bashful.
Eric Winkfield: If I could jump in.
Dale Bornstein: My email … Don’t give out my email.
Student: Thank you.
Dale Bornstein: You’re welcome.
Eric Winkfield: I will say definitely, if she’s going to give out her email, definitely get it.
Dale Bornstein: Thank you.
Eric Winkfield: My point of view in response to your question is this right here, you have to put yourself out there. As a student, an undergrad, people are not expecting you to know exactly what it is you want to do. If you do know what you want to do, amazing, great, make sure you share that information with those that you are networking and talking to. But one thing that I do encourage those who I mentee and those who I talk to and speak to is that you cast a wide net and just try things.
Go out for the internship that you don’t think you’re going to like at first. Talk to those individuals that work in careers that you don’t find that interesting but just get a perspective and understand what they’re doing and see if that’s something you can give a try at least once. From there, because you never know through those conversations where you may land, and to Dale’s point, you never know who those individuals may know. If you’re talking about things you’re interested in doing, the things you want to experience, things you want to try, they may be connected to somebody who can be connected to you and may be able to make that connection from there.
Student: Thank you so much.
Gregg Sherrill: Just picking up on one thing there too, because I think it’s so important. I talk to students quite often and they ask me questions about, if I aspire to be an executive in a company or other, how did you do it? Blind luck is my number one response to that. But as I look back over my career because I did not have a plan, it was the people I knew from the network that helped. Every one of you knows a person or more, hopefully, that you can pick up the phone and call and you can get help from. You also know the people that ehh, I’m not so sure. The more you can put on this side of the scale than the other side of the scale, the better off you are.
To pick up on what Eric said too about take that internship, take a chance on something you’re not sure because the more you can make yourself unique, also helps you to stand out from a career point of view, recognized if you will. I did a few things that I didn’t know at the time were making me unique, so I didn’t have a plan, like I said. One of which, I was told it was destroying my career and it was probably the single best move I ever made back in the days when you just went up functionally in one organization and I jumped out of it. It is so important to cast that wide network, as Eric said, and learn. You’re out to learn as much as to give, and as I said, build those relationships where it may never amount to more than you need help someday and you want to pick up the phone and call somebody and you know who that is. It can be so important.
Student: Thank you so much.
Dr. Cathy Rogers: I’ll point out that there are a lot of students who ask about networking. If you, yes, cast your net wide, but if you identify three to five or maybe even more practitioners that you really wish you knew, and you wish they were in your network, my experience and my student experience, is that they’re willing to do informational interviews. They might not have a job or a position or even an internship available, but especially if you’re a PRSSA member, and you have some credibility there, you can reach out to these practitioners and ask for an informational interview of about 30 minutes. Then they know you and then you’ve started a relationship, you’re building your network in a very intentional way. A lot of my students are afraid to do that but I think that’s a very good suggestion.
Eric Winkfield: That’s amazing that Dr. Rogers brought that lup because that’s actually a practice that I followed when I was an undergrad. But to take it a step further, when you have those informational interviews, don’t be afraid to follow up with those individuals who you reached out to. When you follow up, explain to them how you took the advice that they gave you, how you applied it and what were the outcomes because that shows that person that you one, were listening and two, you thought their time valuable enough and their information valuable enough to be able to share how you applied it to your life, and the successes or the failures that you had when doing it.
Dr. Cathy Rogers:To follow up, don’t just send an email, everybody sends an email. Send a handwritten thank you note or a type written letter. I like handwritten thank you notes, right after you meet them, right after you have that appointment and say what Eric suggested, what you learned, what you got out of it. I think that goes a long way and makes you memorable.
Bob Feldman: Can I ask a question of the audience? How many of you are undergraduate seniors? It looks like almost half. And juniors? Sophomore or freshman? Any grad school students? I’m asking because it depends on how much time you still have in school, undergraduate, graduate and so forth. What I would add is, the pool of talent out there from an employer’s perspective, is never as good as it should be. We’re always looking for really good people and really good people are really hard to find. I think if you’re really good, you have an advantage.
I think also that this generation or maybe for the last say, I don’t know, maybe seven or eight years, have a unique capability and skill set that most employers really need and don’t have to the extent that they want. I think it’s the first time maybe ever that that’s the case. You guys understand the digital landscape much better than you know, any or most mid/senior level managers. They understand the business a lot better, but you actually bring something to the party. What that means, is that you need to double down on understanding the business.
When you do this networking to people to talk about interviewing, I will tell you, most people fail at it. Most of you don’t do it very well and you need to do it better. Doing it well is not doing it well enough. When people come in and interview, you can tell in five minutes if they’ve really studied the company, if they really know what’s going on. I know how aggressive they’ve been in getting internships. You do pretty good, you look around your peers and you’re saying, I’m doing pretty well because I see what the average is and I’m doing that. Well, we don’t hire average. Hold the bar up high for yourself.
All this networking we’re talking about is exactly right. I don’t think I speak just for myself up here, we have a high bar. If you’re really good, you’re going to get hired. I don’t think I’ve ever let anybody go who is coming out of school who is a rock star. It just doesn’t happen. You can always afford to hire really great junior people. There aren’t enough of them and companies make money on you. They don’t pay all that much and they get a lot of value out of you, so you should use that to your advantage. But you’ve got to demonstrate, when you come in and you take advantage of that opportunity to meet, that you know the company inside out, you’ve done your research, you know how to engage in a conversation and all that kind of stuff. If you’re really that good and you hold that high bar for yourself, trust me, you’ll do really, really well.
Eric Winkfield: Take advantage of every opportunity that you have. If you’re on an internship now, be the best intern in your office. If you’re working in your school’s newspaper now, be the best reporter, best editor. If you’re working with the people in DePaul PRSSA, be the best president, vice president, member because that’s going to really speak to what your experiences are and when interviewers are asking you what have you done or what tangible skills are you bringing to the table, you’re going to be able to bring those experiences that you have in those different venues to the table and be able to actively talk about them and describe what you did, what the challenges were and how you overcame them.
But you’re not going to be able to do that if you’re just looking at things that you’re doing as, “This is just something I do on the side or we’re supposed to this because I’m a PR student so I’m supposed to be in PRSSA.” Really lean in to the opportunities that you all are afforded and take advantage of them. If there’s an opportunity to volunteer to do, I don’t know, anything, just make sure you’re just doing all that you can to build your experiences and your skill sets.
Bob Feldman: That goes back to what Gregg said about distinguishing yourself. Dale may appreciate this analogy, you may or may not remember this. I was in the agency world, we worked together at Ketchum a long time ago. We’d have a new business opportunity, we’d go pitch some big piece of business. I remember sitting around with people often and we’d do training programs and stuff. I’d say, okay, you get a call from XYZ company. It’s a big new business opportunity, we want you to come in, in a month and pitch the business. It’s a great thing. What are you going to do?
We’d sit around and go through this whole process about how we were going to do to all these things to make sure we did a great job. Then we’d say, what do you think Edelman is going to do and what do you think Burson is going to do? The answer is, pretty much the same. Then why do we think we’re going to win the business? Because we’re more charming? What is it? You need to have a healthy respect for the competition and then figure out how do I distinguish myself from the competition in order to earn the right either to be employed as an agency or as an employee.
Dale Bornstein: I would say charming worked for me my whole career, just to be clear. Right Bob?
Dale Bornstein: Actually, I just want to build on something that’s been said. Especially when you’re just coming out of school, I think sometimes it’s intimidating. How many internships have you had? Do you know how to use some of these online tools? What are your experiences? What are your skills? Here’s the deal. A good employer is actually not expecting you to understand the business you’re going into per se with the skills per se. What we look for, what I look for, is attitude. I can teach you on the job. I can teach you skills, but I can’t teach you attitude.
To Bob’s point, when you come in, you should be smart about the company you’re coming into. You should know what they do, you should do your homework but man, you should let us know or let certainly me know, that you want to work hard, you’re resourceful, you’re smart, you’re a problem solver, you’re a team player, you bring an energy and an inspiration that is a value add to my culture, a culture add if you will and that you want to learn and that you’re intellectually curious. If you’re intellectually curious, you’re going to win throughout your career. Don’t be intimidated that you don’t check all the boxes for a job posting. Give it your all. Go in there, frame your own narrative, redefine the position. Tell them why you can do what they want and why you want to learn from some of the best.
Bob Jimenez: Something worth looking into as well, in addition to what the business is about, really dive into the values of the organization.
Dale Bornstein: Absolutely.
Bob Jimenez: Because one of the things I find is what will get folks in trouble all the time, and this is even senior people, it’s not so much what they do, there’s a lot of people who can do the task, do the skill and have the expertise but how they do it. Are they treating people with respect? Do they have a work ethic and integrity around what they do? Do they listen? Do they collaborate and partner? I’m 100% with you, you can teach certain skills, you can teach certain things, it’s hard to teach that type of thing. When I look at interns, I always look is there going to be a values alignment? Is there going to be a value fit and a culture fit here? That’s one of the other elements I look for as well.
Dale Bornstein: I agree, 100%.
Bob Feldman: Nah.
Bob Jimenez: He doesn’t care about values.
Bob Feldman: Whatever.
Student: Hi, my name is Chantiere Anderson. I am a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The question that I have for you all is what difference, if any, do you all believe graduate school makes when first entering the field?
Bob Feldman: I teach a graduate class, I’m happy to start, at USC because people ask this a lot. It costs a lot of money to get a graduate degree, it’ a lot of time and people always want to know, is it worth it? The short answer is yes, it’s worth it if you make it worth it. Here’s the deal. My experience, these guys can tell you what they think, my experience is at least if you stay within the communications industry, and this may be changing by the way over the next five to ten years because to get good marketing jobs MBA was point of entry. Now, that coms and marketing is often overlapping and so forth, the advanced degree may become a prerequisite. But my experience has been at least to date, that the paper, the degree itself is not that big a deal to employers. That’s the bad news.
The good news is, I think those two years or whatever it is of school, where you learn a lot, you do internships, you do these other things, ought to make you a substantially more compelling candidate than somebody coming out of an undergraduate program. To that extent, it ought to be worth it and you ought to get paid more money and you know, some employers do and some employers don’t. I think it’s completely worth it because you learn a lot more, you get a lot more experience, and you ought to be able to apply that. That ought to be the value as opposed to the diploma, which the employer probably doesn’t give that much attention to.
Dr. Cathy Rogers: That’s a good question and I get asked that a lot and so I’m always asking it of professionals. Usually, the question is should I go to graduate school first or work first, so that’s what I’ll address. What I’ve heard and what has at least been my experience is that to go straight into graduate school, and maybe some of you who are graduate students did this and it’s going to work fabulously for you, so good for you. But to go straight into graduate school without some kind of life experience, left work experience, you’re just going to have a piece of paper and you’re going to be competing against people who have more experience. I’ve employers say, if I have a candidate with no experience or just an internship and a graduate degree and somebody with an undergraduate degree with three to five experience, that they’re going hire the person with more experience.
The other thing, my experience with graduate school is, much of the work is independent. Yes, you’re in classes, but you’re assigned independent research projects. If you have some life experience, some work experience, then you’re going to go into those research projects much more knowledgeable and be able to focus more on what you know you want to do and avoid the things you don’t want to do. That’s my two cents.
Gregg Sherrill: I would support what Dr. Rogers just said. I may have a little bit of bias because I got my graduate degree 15 years into my career. I had an engineering undergrad and knew I was interested in more than business side of things and thought maybe the MBA would help me. Now, by that time, I had a family. I had four young daughters. I was traveling to Japan almost every three months on a program, and I wanted to quit about 1,000 times, I can tell you that. When you do it the way I did it, it took four years, not two years of going to night school.
For me, it became almost a personal thing that I was determined that this was something I wanted for my own benefit even internally, and I was willing to sacrifice to get it, whether or not it ever advanced my career, which is hard to predict, very hard to predict. I certainly think it did, and it is what you make of it in the end. But I do tend to agree, especially as I shifted companies after 22 years from Ford, that it was valuable that I had obtained that after I had worked and had a lot of experience. It was actually more meaningful to me then as well. I really knew what I wanted to focus on in grad school and all of that, and it became a big help.
I’m not saying you can’t do it the other way and everyone’s situation is different. Your financial situation may be different, your opportunities may be different, etc. Some of which can be completely beyond your control. I do think there are probably pros and cons but there is, I think, a great deal of benefit for you personally as well as someone looking at your resume if you do have that work experience that is then coupled with a graduate degree, but I’m not saying that’s the only way.
Tom Burrell: Can I speak to the con side of it? Your graduate degree is not specifically directed toward any particular company. If you have experience within a particular company and you know what you need to learn and know what the direction is that you need to go in, that experience spent on the job is going to be more valuable than a general advanced degree. Another thing is that at our company, in a number of cases, we have paid for people to get their graduate degrees. Get the experience, get in a situation where you make yourself valuable enough to have the company help you get your graduate degree, which will be also more specifically targeted to helping that company.
Eric Winkfield: If I may weigh in, I get asked this question a lot, just my friends, folks who are in school right now because I decided to go to grad school right after I completed my undergraduate degree. I want to start this conversation by saying that I really want folks to stop looking at a graduate as the end all, be all to advance and understand that it’s a tool to add into your tool belt so you can further shape and mold your career. Yes, sometimes if you do have a graduate degree, there are some dollar advancements that are tied to it that you do qualify for but that’s not always the case. It really depends on the employer or who you work for.
The way I looked at my graduate education was how was my degree going to help me advance and help me get the role I wanted when I was applying for a full-time role. I do agree with what some of the panelists, it really depends on the amount of experience that you’re walking into your graduate program with and so when I decided to go to grad school, I knew that I had spent some time at Edelman working as an intern. I knew that I worked at NBC Universal as an intern. I had very prestigious internships under my belt that were going to help carry me through the graduate degree program. While I was in my grad program, I also worked for the university in a coms function as well.
If you’re going to do it, you’re going to have to make sure it works out for you, works out for your story. There is no yes or no, right or wrong answer to this question. It just all depends upon the different factors of your own personal life. One thing that I did to help me make my decision is I did those informational interviews. The advice we’ve given you up here is probably advice we’ve done and taken ourselves. I have folks who were pro grad school right after undergrad and saying no, don’t go to grad school, get your experience as well. But what it all boiled down to was me looking at my career, looking at where I wanted to go and looking at how I was going to be able to navigate that conversation once I got that degree, what I was going to do. It worked out for me because I was able to land a really good job after I graduated from grad school but again, I had to be very thoughtful on the degree that I was pursuing as well as understanding how that degree was going to help me in the long term of my career.
Tom Burrell: We’re actually talking about public relations, right? Part of talking about public relations is talking about creativity. I know advertising is not public relations exactly, but the whole idea is that when it comes down to ideas, I don’t care whether you have two degrees, three degrees, in some cases, no degrees in terms of moving ahead within a company that’s focused on ideas, ingenuity, initiative and so forth. Going back to one of the earlier questions, how you get ahead is based largely, of course, my situation is a little bit different because I’m older and I’m African-American and at that time there were no such things as connections and relationships, so you just had to be totally creative.
I can tell you stories about examples of creativity in order to get in. I got into the mailroom and that was a major executive decision that was made at the top level of the company to get me into the mailroom, the first thing I did was act like I didn’t belong there and everything that I did made them beg the question, what is this guy walking around looking all executive and stuff, what is he doing pushing this wagon around?
I had a friend, a story that I was recently reminded of, there was a guy who came into a reception area cold and asked to speak to the general manager of the company. The general manager came out and he said, “I want to see your books.” He said, “What?” He said, “I want to see your books.” He says, “Who are you, what is this?” He said, “My name is Arthur and I want to see your books.” “What are you talking about? Who do you represent?” “I don’t represent anybody, I’m looking for a job, and I just want to make sure by looking at your books, I want to see if you’re the kind of company that I would want to work for.” This guy got a job.
Another case in point, train schedules. There was this one person who wanted to get a job in a company. He studied the train schedule of the guy that he would come to work for, and he ended up sitting with him on the train going out to some suburban place. He just bought a ticket and wound up engaging this guy in a conversation. He was his captive, a captive audience, he got the job. That’s the way you can get jobs and that’s the way you can keep jobs and that’s the way you can grow in jobs, by being creative and being inventive. You guys are in the business of public relations. Use some of those tricks you’re learning to apply to clients to apply to your work situation.
Andrew Willett: That’s definitely some excellent advice. With such great advice, I just want to plug the hashtag, #PlankMentor. If you are hearing something that you like, feel free to live tweet that and we will give you some love and attention on Twitter with the hashtag #PlankMentor. I want to switch gears to something that was a very prevalent conversation a couple of weeks ago. I was in Austin, Texas with some peers of mine and it’s the topic of diversity and inclusion. I want to ask the panel, the PR industry has come a really long way, but we still have some work to do be done. What do you think the industry needs to do as next steps to continue to commit to diversity inclusion and public relations?
Tom Burrell: I think that one of the problems with minorities moving up through the marketing communications arena is there has not yet been a compelling reason for management to take real critical action in this area and that is part of the problem that drives more supply than demand in so many instances. We have to figure out a way, you’ve got to give management a reason to want to really follow through on this. It’s interesting in the marketing communications sector that the area that is most able to be persuasive, because that’s the business that we’re in, are not able to persuade whatever forces that need to be persuaded to move minorities up and through the ranks to the point of leadership positions. That leaves this industry behind every other industry.
If you look at the corporate sector, the religious sector, the government sector, even the tech sector right now and I ask you to name African-American or Hispanic CEOS, particularly African-American, CEOs of major advertising agencies or public relations, you come up with zero as opposed to the major corporations where there maybe seven or eight CEOs right now and throughout the history maybe 25 or 30 and that’s where the problem is that there has not been a compelling, motivating factor to move people up through the ranks to top positions.
I was in the business back in 1960 and we’ve been talking about this since 1960. I know there was a big influx of African-Americans into the advertising agency business in the late ’60s and the problem was that there was plenty of supply but they reached that point where the wall hit them and then there was attrition. When I talk to young people who want to do this, I’ll say, “If you’re like me and you have a loose screw and you say you want to go ahead and do it anyway, let’s do it. But let me tell you what you’re working against and if you want to do it, after I tell you, you’re going to do it and go ahead and do it and help you do it, I’ll mentor you through it.” But it’s a very tough situation when there’s nothing compelling that says, we’ve got to do this.
Gregg Sherrill: I would just speak a little bit from the corporate perspective. Obviously, that’s where I spent my career in some pretty large companies. First off, I always start for me operating in 24 countries around the world, sales in 80, diversity meant a lot of dimensions for us, a lot of dimensions. I found it that if you can appreciate the power that diversity can bring to new ideas, to different ways of doing things because of different viewpoints that you can get on the table, that it can be a huge competitive advantage. Our country is, I think in the world, somewhat unique in the magnitude of its diversity because how the country was built. Most of the countries that we operated in, there was very little diversity ethnically, racially, that sort. The male/female piece is 50/50 everywhere, we’ve got that. But you get into the others, it’s not.
I always found whether we were operating in China or Europe or South America or India or Southeast Asia that an appreciation for diversity can give you a competitive advantage vis-a-vis your competitors that came from countries that didn’t even have this ability because they didn’t have the diversity to begin with, without going outside their own countries and they weren’t used to it. It is something in my view that you really have to focus and work on. To a certain extent, I think it’s human nature that we all are most likely to spend time with people that are most like us, so you have to push yourself to spend time with people who are least like you or less like you. It does require a focus and it requires a leadership focus, there’s no question about that in my mind.
You will not get it perfect, it’s one of those journeys that we have to keep pushing on. But after 40 years in the business I was in and I can cite you example after example where I could see mistakes made for lack of an understanding of certain markets that diversity could have helped you understand and where because you might have appreciated diversity more than your competition, it in fact, did give you a competitive advantage. All that’s on the top of it’s just flat the right thing to focus on too, period, end of story, whether it ever does anything for your business or not, it is.
But it does take focus. It does not come naturally in my experience. You actually need to work on it and I don’t care where you start your walk of life, we’re all unique. It takes focus on your part, focus on my part, focus and effort. They don’t teach that anywhere that I’m aware of but it’s something you learn as you go and either appreciate and can turn it into something very powerful on just the values level as well as the business level in my view.
Dale Bornstein: I couldn’t agree more, Gregg. From an agency perspective, our currency is creativity and innovation and ideas, and that is driven by diversity of thought and perspective and background and gender and everything else. There is compelling data everywhere that shows when you do or try to get it better or right, I think it is a long journey, and it takes great focus but everything from financial performance to just inspired work and more inspired workplace fulfillment comes from diversity.
But I think the challenge is the inclusivity. That’s where I think we have so much work to educate each other about what an inclusive workplace feels like and looks like and how, when you have great talent that wants to work there and is diverse, how do you retain, grow, develop, and help each other learn about how to foster that kind of workplace? That takes training. I think it takes training, it also takes bravery. There are lots of conversations right now going on in our agency that are awkward, that are hard, that require you to confront folks and call them out when unconscious bias takes over and you need to be woken up about things. We all saw the Megyn Kelly incident. Our workplaces can become microcosms of that.
It takes a lot of collaboration and it’s hard work and I think it needs both C suite commitment as much as it takes organic, authentic leadership at every level in an organization and a lot of good role model-ship. It’s not an easy journey. I don’t think certainly from an agency perspective we are anywhere near where we should be, but I think there are a lot of people focused on it and want to get there. We should set benchmarks and we should be accountable and we should all work to get there.
Eric Winkfield: Dale, I think that both you and Tom said some things that were, and you definitely for sure Gregg, said a few things that really resonated as I was thinking about my response to this question. For sure that the industry is doing really well at figuring how do we get diverse folks at the table. There’s always more we can be doing. There’s always more programs, more initiatives, more actions that we can do to make sure we’re bringing folks to the table. But the conversation we need to have is, to your point, how do we keep them at the table, how do we foster that diverse talent?
I work with a dynamic group of diverse professionals in Washington, D.C. who are either at an agency, who are in the corporation, or the nonprofit or the government space and the common theme from each industry and those folks who work in those industries is, we’re diverse candidates at the table, we don’t feel included into the corporate body, into our organization’s culture. We bring these great ideas, we bring these different ways of looking at issues or projects that we’re working on, but are our issues or ideas being heard, actually heard?
There is also a piece in there on the inclusion part is we have to be able to understand the translation between cultures because that can also be lost when folks are communicating and expressing their ideas and expressing those new thoughts at the table. Are the folks of upper management, are the folks who are their managers actually listening to them or listening for the potential that those ideas bring? Those are the questions that I believe as communicators, as both on the senior and junior side, we need through these conversations, walk through our workplaces, with that mindset of inclusion. Am I doing my part and making sure my diverse colleagues, whether it be diversity of skin color, maybe diversity of sexual orientation, whatever that is, do they feel included? Do they feel supported by me? Or what can I do to make sure they feel that way?
When we begin to develop a culture in our organizations that foster that type of thinking, that type of activity, we then begin to move the needle that way. When it comes to how do we that talent, let’s be honest, some diverse candidates do not have experiences where they know how to act in certain businesses and certain places. They need to learn those soft skills of the business and those are the things that come through development programs, through our organizations, and not just the things that say, “We’re going to do this to say that we did it.” Let’s do the things that actually invest and show the value and really grow and really develop this talent because it’s a talent that’s there, but there’s muscles that need to be defined and need to be strengthened so they can be where they need to be.
Dale Bornstein: Agree. In the world we live in, which is so time starved these days, how many of you has enough time that you want in a day? None of us. Here’s what is also I think exactly what you’re saying Eric, is that to create these diverse, inclusive cultures, you want culture add. You don’t want to fit in the culture, you want people who are going to add to the culture. That takes time, that takes energy, that takes sitting down and having management time and really understanding what does that person need, which is different than someone else that comes into the culture with a different background, different experience. It’s going to take all of us to stop and make this the priority of our time versus the to-do list, which we could probably take that 20-25% and put into developing inclusive workplaces.
Andrew Willett: Thank you for the fantastic advice on that one. We have about five minutes left. In those last five minutes, I’d like to do a quick rapid fire. If you could each go down the row and tell us what inspires you most about being a mentor? The question is, what inspires you most about being a mentor?
Tom Burrell: Start it here?
Andrew Willett: Sure, kick it off.
Tom Burrell: What inspires me most about being a mentor is making a contribution to progressive human development. The idea of taking people who are behind you and moving them ahead of you and seeing how that not only helps give you fulfillment but helps the world move forward.
Gregg Sherrill: When I look back and think of those that mentored me, and if I went and talked to them today, they would not have used the word mentor, they didn’t know they were a mentor, and they were. They had this huge impact on my life, my career, probably more my life, to be honest with you than my career and the person that I am. That to me is what’s exciting. If you can do the same thing for a younger generation and sustainably crate that education. The fact that every time I’ve engaged with people, I always learn something too. It is not just a one-way street, it is absolutely a two-way street.
Eric Winkfield: I would say it’s sparking that fire in mentees or just those who are seeking a sense of encouragement. I feel like when you have these goals or you have things, when you see folks who are up on stages or whatever and you say, “I really wish I could be that way or I really wish I could do that.” Already in their mind they make the goal so far, so unattainable, but being able to be the person to say, you know what, it is not. It’s hard work but it’s work that you’re able to do. Seeing that light really flicker and really spark in their minds and in their eyes, it’s really something I look forward to doing. It’s why I do everything that I do. I think it said in my bio that my main goal in life in general is to be the one who can really foster and really encourage folks to be their best selves. Whether your best self is in a career or in your own personal life, it’s just really being a resource to those so that can be exactly what they want to be.
Dr. Cathy Rogers: I think it’s seeing someone thrive and see their confidence level bump up, because you can see just like you can see the spark. Once you’re in a relationship with a mentee, whether you call it that or not, you can see when that confidence level goes up and that really inspires me.
Dale Bornstein: You should never sit next to a good professor because they will take your idea. I would say the same thing. I’m totally jazzed when I can inspire someone or help them believe in themselves as much as I believe in them. I think confidence is the currency of mentorship. Again, I have to tell you, tonight and today has been so meaningful for me because I am sitting next to, well not exactly next to but close to one of the greatest mentors in my life. Someone who I actually met when I was an intern at Burson and he was a hotshot supervisor on the corning fiberglass business. It’s true.
Bob Feldman: Thanks for saying how much older I am.
Dale Bornstein: But he later became my boss and even throughout my career when I need the best advice or to believe in myself, I turn to Bob Feldman.
Bob Feldman: Thank you. I don’t want to make you cry but today is a good example. Your answer is, you know, it’s self-evident why you’re the CEO of an agency and doing so well.
Bob Jimenez: You guys want to hug it out or something.
Dale Bornstein: Later, later.
Bob Jimenez: Even more difficult than sitting next to a professor is being at the end of this question. Every good answer has been given. The only thing I’ll add on to what’s already been said is, you go into the relationship thinking a certain thing and this is from your own thinking about what an individual may need or what they may be looking for or how you might be able to help. What’s inspiring to me is to see how an individual will take what you provide, whatever it may be, but they get their own and actually achieve something even better than you were even considering in the beginning. There’s this exponential power to it, which I think is the most inspiring thing to me.
Bob Feldman: Whether you work in a professional service firm or a manufacturing company like a Tenneco or any other kind of company, I believe at the end of the day as you grow in your careers, we’re all in the talent management business. I don’t really care what anybody makes or produces. At the end of the day, success and scale comes from being able to hire great people, nurture great people, develop them and have them achieve success. Whatever success you can achieve on your own is relatively limited. The opportunity to do that wherever you are, I just think is enormous and that’s enormously gratifying for me. Honestly, even though I’ve been in the agency world most of career, what’s really inspiring and motivating is to see people like Dale, to go from intern to CEO. That’s the reward.
Andrew Willett: Thank you all so very much for being here and for sharing your advice with us. Let’s give our honorees a round of applause. Thank you so much for joining us today whether you’re a student or a professional and thank you for coming to The Plank Center day and we hope you enjoyed the day. I’ll just hand back to Ron here to close it out.
Ron: Thank you very much Andrew and thank you for your very special advice. Twitter was full of all your great comments and we’re all taking notes. You all look great on Facebook Live. It really looked good. What’s going to happen next is they’re going to stay around for a few minutes so that you can network with them and check out Tom’s train schedule. Then we’ll be pulling them out to go on. They’re going to get honored this evening. Join me in thanking this very special panel. Class dismissed.