The public relations profession recently lost its most treasured “early adopter” of student development. Betsy Plank, APR, Fellow PRSA, was a trailblazer in cultivating young energy and talent, founding what arguably is the premier public relations student organization in the world, the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). Her legacy of mentorship lives on, and its benefits flow not only to grateful students, but also to an enriched profession.
Earlier this week, my colleague on the PRSA Board of Directors, Steve Iseman, Ph.D., APR, Fellow PRSA, provided valuable insights in PRSAY into identifying and pursuing mentorship opportunities. Critical to aspiring practitioners, these opportunities also unleash immeasurable benefits to every one of us in the public relations profession. Each of us should give of ourselves to help students meet their potential. But, there’s also a big “take” coming back to the profession as they parlay our seasoned advice into tomorrow’s best practices.
Clearly, mentoring goes well beyond a sense of benevolence for students and young professionals. Today, those young professionals are in the position we were ten, twenty, thirty or more years ago. Yes, many public relations professionals give a brief word of thanks to others who possess a vision and passion for the next generation of professionals. But, then they move on to the next plan, the next program, the next project.
If doing something good for the future of a young person isn’t enough to make the case for mentoring, here are some further thoughts that might help you reframe your thinking on the benefits of assisting newly minted public relations professionals and those who are still in training:
- The most significant developments in delivery channels now actively used in public relations arguably have been developed by young professionals, and younger public relations practitioners often have been the early trial and adoption advocates for these practices. Having young professionals who can merge their formal training with a solid command of current practices obtained from seasoned practitioners aids in the innovation process, making our work all the more relevant to current and future needs of our employers and clients.
- Beyond this superior understanding of new and emerging technologies and practices, younger professionals often provide immediate team access to an important voice and perspective — the younger marketplace. Having fast access to youthful perspective can be a critical factor in creating successful public relations programs with wide demographic appeal.
- Without new professionals gaining and applying practical, post-bachelor degree knowledge, demands for new team members to deliver tactical program elements could exceed the supply. That causes seasoned professionals to be stretched thin and results in less robust employer or client solutions. Contrary to how it may seem to some in our ranks, today’s senior professionals will seek to retire at some stage, with younger professionals advancing in responsibility and authority. A world that is getting ever more complx cannot afford not to have a steady supply of professionals who serve to interpret, interface and inform both organizational leaders and the audiences to whom these leaders are responsible.
There are many new graduates in the business who interface with a variety of professionals who can help them learn and grow. Often, students can find mentors among their teachers, as well as among contacts outside of academia. However, there are many more who need our attention both before and after graduation.
No matter how they connect with us, and us with them, the time to reach out is now. It’s an investment not only in our mentees, but also in the future success of our profession. It’s what Betsy did, selflessly, for decades. And, it’s the best recognition of her contributions that we can give.
Blake Lewis, APR, Fellow PRSA, is a member of the PRSA Board of Directors and principal and senior consultant at Lewis Public Relations in Dallas.