By Taylor Shelnutt
Some have called it “The Best Night in PR.” Others have described it as the Oscars of the industry. Whatever the reference, it’s clear that The Plank Center’s annual Milestones in Mentoring Gala is one of the most notable events in the public relations industry each year.
The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations hosted its sixth annual gala on Oct. 29 in Chicago. Six honorees from various sectors received awards for their dedication to mentoring others while excelling in the industry. #PlankMentor was trending in the city while more than 50 people tuned into the live-stream, demonstrating the PR vortex taking place in one of the profession’s principal hubs.
The evening began with a panel at DePaul University during which honorees answered questions from students. The panel members gave their insights to some of the most pressing issues in public relations. The questions were inquisitive and showed a true passion for the industry, foreshadowing the capability of the leaders who will be sitting at the boardroom table one day.
Nearly 300 professionals from different agencies, corporations and experience levels were given the opportunity to network and discuss the latest industry news during the main event. The six honorees and their presenters delivered speeches regarding their dedication to mentorship. Perhaps the most striking thing about the night was the fact that it was an event to honor excellent mentors, but we were also being mentored by each other at the same time.
While there was no shortage of insight and advice from all in attendance, I found the following takeaways to be particularly beneficial in developing the industry and its future leaders.
Mentoring is a lifelong action. As public relations professionals, we should always be learning and asking questions. Pat Ford, a previous Milestones in Mentoring honoree and the current worldwide vice chair and chief client officer of Burson-Marsteller, said that being a great mentor or mentee is something people should be doing constantly throughout their careers. Even Harold Burson insists he’s still a mentee. That means that whether you’re a student, a new pro, a seasoned counselor or the founder of a global agency, you have the responsibility to teach and be taught.
Work hard and start early. Danny Rubin, vice president of Rubin Communications Group and recipient of the “Young Professional” award, talked with students after the panel about work-life balance. He explained the importance of putting in long hours and proving your commitment while you’re young. As you advance in your career, other potential factors, including spouses and children, will give you more of a reason to desire work-life balance. If you put the necessary time in now, you’ll be farther along and have an easier adjustment later.
Shrink the gender gap. Barri Rafferty, CEO of Ketchum North America and recipient of the “Agency” award, discussed her role in encouraging women to pursue leadership positions in their companies. She emphasized that women should constantly seek opportunities to advance their careers, which she called “opting in.” Rafferty also highlighted the importance of finding ways to have both — a developed career and a family. In the same vein, men can help by encouraging more female leadership.
As a second-time attendee, I left the gala feeling rejuvenated and inspired by the strides already made in the industry, as well as the promises held by its future. It was an incredible privilege to be in the presence of so many public relations legends and to be surrounded by others who share my passion. With professionals from all areas of the industry shaking hands and bonding over the importance of strong leadership, it truly was the best night in PR.
For those not lucky enough to attend the Plank Center gala, here’s the link to the introductions and speeches by the six honorees.
Taylor Shelnutt is a senior public relations and Spanish major at the University of Alabama. She is firm director and account executive at the college’s student-run Capstone Agency.