It’s been almost a year since I enrolled as a mentee in the CIPR mentor programme.

I’ve come to understand that most senior business leaders and indeed owners have either had a mentor in the past or continue to be mentored, whether formally or informally.

The reason I decided to sign up was to grow my confidence in developing my business. I thought it would be useful to outline the last ten months and to give you an idea of how a mentor could be beneficial to anyone, no matter what level you’re working at.

Identify a mentor

Identifying a suitable mentor, for me, was the trickiest part of the process. The CIPR has a list of those who have come forward and offered to be a mentor, and at first, I think they thought I was offering to be a mentor, not a mentee!

I gave a fairly good idea of what I thought I needed in a mentor. That was important to me, as I knew I needed someone who was like-minded, strong, experienced in years and someone who could offer a flip-side. Someone who had built up a business and was willing to offer their experience and opinions.

Before the induction day, the person who had been confirmed as my mentor pulled out due to illness. So we were back at the drawing board but thankfully found a very suitable mentor for me.

I still attended the induction day at CIPR HQ which outlined the process we might want to adopt to ensure we got the most out of the year-long programme.

Agree the lie of the land

It was important to agree on objectives, contact, the level of formality and good practice such as minutes. It was also important to realise that this was a two-way process, so what did the mentor want to gain from the experience.

My mentor was based just outside of London, so face-to-face meetings weren’t always going to be possible. When I’ve been in London on business, we’ve generally always made a point of catching up. Other than that, we’ve used Skype for meetings.

We started off with minutes but now we’ve moved to a less formal way of working, which is more like an update on the goals we set earlier.

What do you both want to achieve?

This is a big question, as not everyone will be able to identify what that they want, although they may just know they need some sort of guidance.

Some people like to use mentors as sounding boards.

I had one or two particular professional and personal achievements I sited from the start, including knowing when to ‘use my voice’ in boardroom situations. I don’t mean when to speak and when to be quiet, but having experienced a year in my first board appointment, I already identified that I needed to understand boardroom ‘politics’ and tactics. I am confident speaking to clients in their boardrooms about PR but when it comes to a wider business/organisation overview, this is a different skill altogether.

I have also found my mentor particularly useful when discussing new things, such as when I was hatching the plan for The PRofessionals, Scotland’s first PR festival. From discussing the research to developing the festival model. Sometimes it helps to have an independent view on costings, pricing and the positioning. Don’t get me wrong, I’d never ask my mentor to do anything or to tell me what to do, that’s not why they are there. I presented the festival and all the trimmings and my mentor threw in a few ‘have you considered blah’ points.

My mentor had never mentored anyone before, so I think it was important from their perspective to understand what we both wanted, too. It’s a two-way street.

Informal mentoring

I am fortunate to have a number of senior PR practitioners who I have met through my roles in the CIPR. Many recognise my thirst for knowledge and my ambition to grow. Although they may not formally mentor me in a programme, I find my catch up lunches, coffees and drinks sessions with them really insightful. From time to time I email different people with different ideas and ask for their feedback. It’s a wee bit like using a network or community.

I rather like this approach as it brings about a more diverse conversation.

Who can benefit from a mentor?

As I mentioned earlier, it’s not uncommon for anyone to have a mentor. In an #AuraPop last year I said ‘grab a mentor’. I believe mentoring is one of the single most important ways for a) a senior practitioner to give something back and b) for aspiring practitioners who are hungry to develop in PR, to benefit from someone’s experience and knowledge. If it were possible, I think everyone should have a mentor; particularly true for younger women in the business, who can sometimes lack the confidence to push themselves to their full potential.

My mentor and I have agreed to carry on our relationship after the mentoring programme finishes. It’s obviously been a two-way relationship we’ve built up and we’ve both benefited.

6 steps to mentor success

  1. Consider your goals and areas you might need mentored
  2. Source and confirm a suitable mentor who shares your ambition and who has the experience to support you
  3. Agree what you both want out of the relationship
  4. Agree how often you’ll talk and a rough agenda to cover
  5. Discuss boundaries – is it OK to call out of the blue or in the evening, or would your mentor prefer a diary date
  6. Always be open about what you’re talking about. You need to build trust and your mentor can’t help if you only tell them half of the story

I’ve mentored informally in the past, from a part-time employee who was starting out on her own to interns who need advice on how to learn quickly and progress in the business.

I’d be happy to informally mentor again. Sometimes it just takes a quick chat to confirm what someone else thinks or to offer a bit of advice. If we all gave some time towards mentoring perhaps the future of PR would be more informed.

I’ll be feeding back my experience of the CIPR mentor programme to the CIPR. It costs £750+VAT. The question is, is there an added benefit from going through a paid programme or is it potentially just as effective to have a network of people you can rely on for advice, which saves you £900?

If you found this blog post useful please do share with others. If you want to contact me to discuss anything please don’t hesitate to!

Blog post by Laura Sutherland, Chief at Aura

Laura is a Chartered PR practitioner and a Fellow of the CIPR. She’s worked in PR for 15 years. Aura was launched in 2008.