Why the advertising industry needs mentoring

On Friday I tutored 20 agency people at the IPA (from 11 agencies and diverse disciplines such as Management, HR, L&D, Finance, Comms Planning, Biddable and TV Buying) in mentor skills. These included active listening, asking the right questions, setting realistic objectives and improved concentration.  What all participants had in common was experience(s) and the willingness to help others find solutions to problems by themselves.


Why bother? There are four business reasons for setting up a programme and then persisting.

  1. Attract talent – “In a world that will become increasingly virtual, creating supportive relationships to help navigate through life, keep overworked employees feeling great…will be key.” Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School
  2. Retain talent – especially millennials, 87% of whom agreed that learning and development opportunities are a reason to stay in the industry. Mentoring was seen to be part of that development package (IPA Millennial Research 2016)
  3. More diverse/inclusive talent. As Indra Nooyi, CEO Pepsico said “If I hadn’t had mentors, I wouldn’t be here today.”
  4. Greater productivity – as Ogilvy noted “The more our people learn, the more useful they can be to our clients.”

Which explains why over 70% of the Fortune 500 companies have mentor schemes.  It is not a miracle cure, but many of the greats in our industry have mentored and been mentored.

Mentors also benefit – they can now see the world from different angles, the skills they use are useful in other ways such as giving effective appraisals, and yes, they can feel pleased with themselves!


How to go about running a successful in-house scheme

  1. Make sure Management are truly committed – being mentors, celebrating the scheme, giving it time and money, measuring its results
  2. Train the mentors in some vital skills: asking questions that encourage a growth mindset, helping mentees set realistic objectives, active listening, how to concentrate better
  3. Brief the mentors about what to do if stumped or concerned
  4. Work out a pairing method in advance – for example the mentee comes to ask the HR Director or Head of Department for mentoring and is matched with the next available suitable mentor
  5. Mentees are given guidance about what mentoring is and is not – for example that they should only work with a mentor when they have a challenge to work through, and that their mentor will not be taking any action on their behalf
  6. Someone needs to do the admin and stay on top of, for example, what you do when an active mentor leaves


Top tips from other mentors

  1. Try to keep asking open questions for as long as possible before you come to a conclusion, as their answers may alter the whole nature of the challenge
  2. After you’ve asked a question keep encouraging your mentee to ‘go on’ rather than taking the limelight back
  3. Don’t be afraid to say ‘this is not working’ – you might not have the right experience, it might be that you are struggling to have any empathy with the mentee
  4. Make sure you end with the mentee agreeing to try something – otherwise this is just a moan and a waste of time


If an in-house scheme is not the answer then investigate external options, for example via NABs or Bloom.

Finally, as the Dalai Lama wisely says ‘Share your knowledge…it’s a way to achieve immortality.”


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