Rich Jernstedt Urges Young Pros to Find Mentors Who Help Them Evolve and Develop

When Rich Jernstedt was honored by Chicago PRSA in 2015, he gave everyone “I Love Chicago PR” buttons before sharing his 10 rules describing the style of Chicago PR people. The 10th rule on Rich’s list is “Give Back.” As a mentor, Rich has been giving back to the profession his entire career so it is fitting that he will receive the “Milestones in Mentoring” Legacy Award from the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations.

Rich’s answers to the Plank Center’s questions below underscore why he is so deserving of such career recognition.

What is your mentorship approach/advice to mentees?

First off, everything you say and do is being observed by others—whether you are in an official mentor/mentee relationship or not, and whether you are in the workplace or not. That’s part of my “approach” and it’s part of my “advice” for mentees. Second, the relationship must be totally two-way. I will talk and listen; the mentee must listen and talk. Mentees must be as committed to help me as I am to help them. Third, the entire relationship must be based on trust.

What is most important key to having a successful mentor/mentee relationship?

Mutual trust. Establish up front what you both hope, want and need to accomplish. Decide at that point if a) it’s possible and b) what responsibilities you both will own to ensure success.

What is one powerful thing learned from mentoring someone?

That’s easy: I do not have all the answers! I want (and need) to be mentored by the mentee, too. The best outcomes are achieved when both individuals recognize we’ll benefit mutually from the insights, shared dialogue and actions of the other.

What are three ways to mentor now so the best/brightest can assume future leadership positions?

One, instill a confidence in their abilities. Help them develop a positive understanding of their strengths and how they can improve on any real or perceived weaknesses. Two, ensure they understand that our profession is ever changing. They must be committed to career-long learning to not just stay up with the changes, but to stay ahead to be a leader. Three, remind them to give back. Be the leader that shares, supports, develops, motivates and, importantly, inspires others.

There is a myriad of changes around us. What issues have/will be a “wake up call” to PR?

Where to begin? In the broadest terms, the very nature of our profession is changing, the professionals who practice it are changing, and the publics we hope to develop relations with are changing.
For example, the lines between the various communications disciplines are changing. They are no longer blurred. They don’t even exist. In fact, the disciplines are merging. You must be willing and able to change. Better yet, be among those leading the change. Technology is a critical factor, of course. The speed, new tools and the opportunities and challenges that result create constant change.

Then, the very nature of the public relations professional is different than even a few years ago. Yes, technology plays a role here, too. But attitudes regarding work (and the desire for some balance) influence where and when you perform it; how much time you spend doing it; with whom you do it (thanks to a more diverse workforce); and how long you stay in any one place (the stigma of “job hopping” has evolved in to “Gee, can’t you find another job?”). The impact of the Millennial workforce has been replaced—at least, somewhat—by Generation Z.

Finally, the publics we must relate to are changing. Of course, they are. How they obtain and make news, opinions and habits are influenced by the same technology and the same dynamics of population shifts. How do you reach them? Influence them? Help them distinguish between “fake” and real news?

So, public relations professionals certainly must respond to a “wake up call.” Stay current. Stay ahead. Find a mentor—maybe several—that will help you always evolve and develop as the best possible professional…always leveraging a world of change.

Spend Saturday:

Reading, walking, biking, movies/theatre/TV, errands, eating out, catching up with friends and family.

Favorite app:


Trade places with:

Walter Cronkite. (Who doesn’t want to be the most trusted person?!)

Favorite vacation:

Too difficult to name one. I’ll go with Oregon, my home state–full of beautiful scenery, fun activities and some of my favorite people. But, I like being anyplace in the world when I’m with the right people—especially my family.

Leadership tip:

Inspire with the “why” of your goal. Then follow-up to motivate with rationale to achieve it; provide necessary training, tools and organization; support everyone along the way; celebrate the success together.

Mentorship tip:

Take it seriously! Follow these steps: understand the need; assess the current status; identify the right approaches; listen and learn; adjust as necessary; acknowledge progress. And, stay in touch…forever.

Every mentor:

“…is never too young—or too old—to mentor or to be mentored by others,” according to Betsy Plank. And, I agree!

Lesson that took longest to learn:

Delegating. The more responsibilities you are assigned, the more impossible it is to perform them all yourself. Especially with a high standard of quality! Give others the chance to learn and contribute. Then you have the time to “lead” the team to the next opportunity.

Daily habits that strengthen leadership skills:

Keep up with what’s going on in the world and how it impacts our work. Make a list of “to-do’s”–accomplish the important ones first. Learn something new. Keep in touch with everyone involved with your work. Acknowledge successes…however small. Take a break.

Three things to inspire/encourage teamwork:

1) Be sure everyone knows why the team’s overall goals and objectives are important; 2) Be sure all members know what their specific roles are in accomplishing the goals; and 3) Be sure everyone knows they must help one another all along the way so it’s a winning team.

Rich Jernstedt began his career as a military public affairs officer before moving on to senior communications roles with a large corporation and major public relations agencies. He founded his consulting firm, The Jernstedt Company, in 2012. He has a select portfolio of clients and also is a senior counselor with Prosper Group, a team of former agency CEOs who consult with independent agencies. Rich will receive the “Milestones in Mentoring” award at the Plank Center gala in Chicago on Nov. 7.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *