A Helping Hand
I have a new client who’s hired me to coach three newbie writers. It’s so much fun for me to see how enthused they are about reporting and writing, and I’m excited when I suggest improvements and see how receptive they are to my editing suggestions.
Mentorship is integral to my professional life. From my very first reporting job at the Orange County Register, I’ve mentored others – and I have had several key men and women who’ve mentored me during my careers in public relations and journalism. I wouldn’t have had the success I’ve enjoyed were it not for those who gave of their time and energy to gently guide and advise me – and critique my work.
Way back when, I was part of the team that began the community editions which later included publications like the Anaheim Bulletin and La Habra Star-Progress, and as a ‘senior writer’ was consulted for advice by greener reporters; I found that I had a knack for connecting with others and coaching them toward excellence.
Some of my former interns now own their own successful PR agencies; others have had distinguished careers as newspaper reporters and editors. Even those who’ve left the communications field tell me that their internship training still comes in handy: Good writing is a valued skill that is always appreciated and rewarded, no matter the profession one pursues.
In late October I’m hosting a tea for fellow female ‘hacks and flacks,’ or reporters and PR pros. It’s the latest in an annual series of teas my late mentor Dede Ginter always hosted near the October 10th anniversary of American women earning the right to vote. Each year Dede graciously welcomed us to her Fullerton home for iced or hot tea, conversations about our lives inside and outside of the workplace, and many sweet and savory snacks. We would spend the afternoon together sharing the rewards and challenges working women share in communications professions. The parties were networking in the truest and best sense of the word.
As I clean house and spruce up the yards in anticipation of my visitors, I’m reminded of how much all of us young writers looked up to Dede, who was one of the first women practicing public relations in Orange County back in the 1960s. She remained a lady, yet she was tough enough to run her own boutique agency, representing a number of nonprofits and consumer clients and attracting a number of awards for the agency’s excellent work.
In addition to raising a family and running a business, Dede also found time to give back to the PR profession, her community, and the causes dearest to her. She was a tireless advocate for women’s rights and women’s organizations, and often donated her firm’s services to nonprofits who needed her help.
Like me, Dede received the highest honor awarded by the Public Relations Society of America – the Distinguished Service Award. But Dede was one of the first women so honored by an organization and profession then dominated by men. At some point in the 1990s, she told me that she quit entering the organization’s annual Protos Awards recognizing excellence in all facets of PR because “I have too many awards cluttering up my shelves already.”
I can’t remember all the times I turned to Dede and other mentors with issues and questions, but I know this: I landed at least two of my professional positions because people I looked up to also respected me and my work. To this day I remain in touch with my predecessor Janell Shearer, who served as director of public relations for Chapman University before advocating for my hiring as her replacement; and Paula Selleck, who hired me to launch Titan Magazine, the award-winning university magazine of Cal State Fullerton. I’ve lost touch with Marilyn Leary, who recruited the first team of editors and writers for the Register’s community editions; and Grif Amies, who took a chance when he hired a newspaper editor who’d never taken a class in PR for a public relations agency job, helping me begin my second career.
In college, networking was drilled into my head as both an important skill and a critical one to getting hired for a newspaper job in an especially competitive time for journalism positions. I started volunteering for the Orange County Press Club and Society of Professional Journalists as a college freshman and continued my service after graduation. Today I’m one of the few individuals who’ve served as the Orange County chapter president for both PRSA and the International Association of Business Communicators.
But networking isn’t about leadership or accolades, and neither is mentorship. To network well, you must approach things altruistically. A personal example: When a journalist called wanting to interview, say, an earthquake expert, I knew that Chapman University wasn’t the right fit, so I referred the writer to my colleague at UC Irvine. The reporter appreciated the contact information and my colleague reciprocated when Chapman was the right source the next time around.
Successful mentorship is the same. Making good writing better, over-servicing clients and the media, and making each publication as interesting, attractive, and creative as possible are goals both mentee and mentor share. The way we get there is by lifting each other up and challenging one another to excellence.
This WriteHer podcast and YouTube channel are meant to share my expertise with others, but I also hope that we can generate an ongoing dialog about writing, editing, and other communications issues. I’m indebted by my new colleague Jillian Boyd, who is assisting me in producing these posts and is instructing me in the finer points of social and electronic media.
Please let me know what you think about our work thus far, and suggest topics you’d like us to discuss in future posts. Thanks for reading, listening, and viewing as we strive toward excellence in communications.
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