By Maret Montanari
Inspired and energized hardly describe the range of emotions I experienced at The Plank Center’s annual Milestones in Mentoring Gala. Undoubtedly, this event rightfully earns its title as “The Best Night in PR.”
The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations hosted its 8th annual gala on Oct. 26 in Chicago. The Center honored six individuals from various sectors for their commitment to advancing mentorship and leading by example. #PlankMentor trended in the Windy City as attendees and live stream viewers heated up the Twitter world.
The afternoon began with a panel discussion at DePaul University during which honorees answered students’ questions regarding interview tips, mentoring and diversity. The gala followed with nearly 300 industry professionals and students gathering to continue celebrating the six industry leaders.
Certainly one cannot blame an aspiring PR professional for being star struck while surrounded by those who coined the term, “PR pioneer.” The legends who cultivated this industry, including Bill Heyman, Bruce Berger and many others. What’s a University of Alabama PR student supposed to do other than soak up as much wisdom as possible?
With a little help from my notepad and pen, the evening’s glitz and glamour did not prevent me from remembering all of the wisdom shared. Here are my top four takeaways from the what has been described as the Oscars of PR.
Discover mentorship anywhere. We often look to those more experienced for guidance. Bill Nielsen, former corporate vice president of Johnson & Johnson and “Legacy” award recipient, dispelled this view as he discussed mentors can be contemporaries or even competitors. Jeff Winton, recipient of the “Corporate” award and senior vice president of Astellas Pharma, advocated for creative thinking when searching for a mentor. Utilize LinkedIn and social media platforms to further your search. Don’t let the fear of reaching out to someone hold you back. You can teach your mentor as much as they teach you. Simply put, mentorship is a two-way street and can be found in the unlikeliest of places.
Find your gift and give it away. Betsy Plank left a legacy of aspiring to inspire. Whether your gift is generosity or leadership, bring people together by advancing the profession. Use your gifts to set an example for others. “There is no greater reward in the business of public relations than finding your gift and giving it away,” said Grace Leong, CEO and partner of Hunter Public Relations and recipient of the “Agency” award.
Go the extra mile. Whether you are the office’s newest intern or a top executive, you have a need to become an expert in your profession. Take a note from the director of culture communications at GE and “Emerging Leader” recipient, Megan Newhouse’s playbook and spend the weekend reading trade journals covering industry hot topics. You may see yourself as a student, but in reality, you are a professional today. Accept the challenge to better yourself and the industry by being an eternal student. Embrace your role, grow your knowledge and be solutions-oriented.
Embrace networking. You walk into a room full of industry professionals who you do not know. How do you react? Do not choose this moment to blend in with the room’s wallpaper. Instead, channel your inner boldness and form new relationships, according to Bill Nielsen. If you have difficulty initiating in the moment conversations, Grace Leong suggests preparing three questions prior to the event. Keep these questions in your back pocket, and you should leave the event feeling empowered and ready to build a relationship with your new contacts.
Aside from a good dinner, multiple conversations with professionals and these tips, I left Chicago with valuable insight, but most importantly, I rediscovered the passion I felt for the PR industry as an eager, information-hungry freshman. The energy that ignited the room all evening sparked a fire within to unlock my full potential. This industry is challenging and forever changing, but with the right mentality and mentors to guide you, success is only a milestone away. How will you reach your full potential in the public relations profession?
Maret Montanari, a junior public relations major at the University of Alabama, serves as assistant firm director and account executive at the college’s student-run Capstone Agency.