PR Experts Inspire Future Leaders: The #PlankMentor Experience

By Victoria Fombelle

Last Thursday, in the heart of downtown Chicago at DePaul’s College of Communication, public relations students from nine universities and professionals came together to learn and network at The Plank Center’s Milestones in Mentoring Student Session.

This event was an extension of Plank Center’s Milestones in Mentoring Gala, which has been uniting passionate students with seasoned mentors since 2010.

The mentors and mentees were glowing with excitement in an environment that felt equal parts inspirational and educational. The success of the event reached beyond DePaul’s walls and into the greater Chicagoland area through the Facebook Livestream, and it quickly gained momentum on Twitter. Social media proved to be an effective networking strategy when #PlankMentor became the #1 trending hashtag in Chicago.

Students asked thoughtful and insightful questions, and while the panel brought diverse perspectives, a few key points resonated with all of them.

The power of networking was heavily emphasized by all seven honorees. “It is who you know as much as what you know,” shared Dale Bornstein. “You will always find ways to get to the place you want to be.”

Bob Jimenez sees networking as a gratifying experience for all. “Be really intentional about it. Don’t be shy, and be very specific about what it is that you want from a particular individual. You will be rewarded for that and so will they.”

Dr. Cathy Rogers recommended pursuing informational interviews to grow your network and your knowledge. However, be sure to follow up uniquely. “Everybody sends an email. Send a hand-written thank you note,” she advised. “I think that goes a long way and makes you memorable.” Sometimes the smallest touches make the biggest difference.

Bob Feldman agreed with Dr. Rogers’ advice. Starting a professional relationship could lead to an internship or job in the future. “We’re always looking for really good people, and really good people are hard to find.” In relation to networking, he encouraged students to “hold the bar up high for yourself.”

While networking can be challenging, it’s a constant process that’s critical to success in PR. “Really lean into the opportunities that you all are afforded and take advantage of them,” encouraged Eric Winkfield.

Twitter User @GlorisTrujillo shared a Winkfield quote that emphasizes the power that intentional, authentic networking can have for all parties involved.

A similar sentiment was held by Tom Burrell and Tweeted by @DirectChick:

A big part of networking and growing in a field is considering one’s educational path. Graduate education: when is the right time, if ever? Is it worth it? Feldman summed it up perfectly: “It’s worth it if you make it worth it.” The panelists urged students not to be shy in investigating all opportunities that are available to them because there is so much to be gained from stepping outside of your comfort zone.

Diversity and inclusion in PR was a central topic of interest to honorees and students alike. Gregg Sherrill added to the discussion. “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, [then] it can be a huge competitive advantage.”

Bornstein framed diversity and inclusion as a key ingredient to business success. “Our currency is creativity, innovation, and ideas, and that is driven by diversity of thought, perspective, background, gender, and everything else.”

“There’s always more we could be doing,” said Winkfield. He encouraged all to ask themselves, “Am I doing my part? Do [my diverse coworkers] feel included by me?”

Winkfield’s words struck a chord with Twitter user @MyreeteW:

As Bornstein summed up, “it’s going to take all of us to stop and make this the priority of our time.”

True to the name of the event, the topic of mentorship was the perfect note on which to wrap up the afternoon’s discussion.

Tom Burrell is passionate about being a mentor. “What inspires me most about being a mentor is making a contribution to progressive human development.” He explained the joy of mentorship as “taking people who are behind you and moving them ahead of you.”

Mentorship is all about sharing. As Sherrill said, “Every time I’ve ever engaged with people, I always learn something, too. It’s not a one-way street. It is absolutely a two-way street.”

Winkfield loves helping people believe in themselves. “It’s hard work, but it’s work that you’re able to do.” Once people realize this, their possibilities are limitless.

“You can see the spark,” Dr. Rogers said. “You can see when that confidence level goes up, and that really inspires me.”

Bornstein’s excitement was evident: “I’m totally jazzed when I can inspire someone or help them believe in themselves as much as I believe in them, and I think confidence is the currency of mentorship.”

Jimenez enjoys watching mentees apply his advice. “What’s inspiring to me is to see how an individual will take what you provide, whatever it may be, but then make it their own, and actually achieve something even better than you were even considering in the beginning.”

“We’re all in the talent management business,” Feldman added in closing. “Whatever success you can achieve on your own is relatively limited.” That is why the power of mentorship takes us all to new heights.

After an inspiring event, over 300 people attended the evening’s Gala, which has been dubbed “The Oscars of PR.”

It’s clear that authenticity, ambition, and collaboration are the skills it takes to reach new levels of PR success. As this Tweet by @julie_stantz captures, Shaq’s idea of being a “real model” applies equally well to star basketball players like him as well as PR students and professionals like us.

As the event wrapped up, it was evident that the honorees had made this sentiment a reality through the words and actions of their mentorship, and the wisdom they shared has sparked a fire in Chicago and beyond.

¬†Victoria Fombelle is a freelance writer living in Chicago, IL. Her writing has been published by 11 publications, including McSweeney’s, The Sarasota Business Review, and Bookfox. She is currently working towards a career in public relations, advertising, or another related communications field.¬†In addition to her professional pursuits, look for Victoria promoting, writing and performing stand up comedy in and around Chicago, including her comedy and variety show, Hyde Park’s “You Might Get Paid.” Twitter/Instagram: @vfombelle, LinkedIn, Facebook.

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