Why Mentoring Is More Important Today Than Ever for the Well-Being of Agencies

Young professionals get chance to learn and grow

Three years ago, Emely Perez, then a senior at the New York City College of Technology, knew little about agency life and didn't necessarily plan to go into advertising as a career. That changed when she landed at J. Walter Thompson, New York, working for Aaron Padin, the agency's head of art and design, on major accounts such as Energizer and Johnson & Johnson. Padin became Perez's mentor, teaching his protégé—who was participating in the 4A's Multicultural Advertising Intern Program (MAIP)—how design fits into the broader, high-tech world of modern branding. He also tutored Perez on how she might best achieve success should she choose Madison Avenue as her ultimate vocation.

"To a person like me at the time, who did not have firsthand understanding of the mechanics of an advertising agency, it seemed fast-paced and overwhelming," Perez recalled. "After the internship, I still saw it as fast-paced and overwhelming, except that I was better equipped to handle the challenges that came my way," thanks largely to Padin's willingness to share his two decades of experience. JWT hired Perez for a full-time gig—and the 4A's named Padin its MAIP Mentor of the Year in 2013.

Experts agree that for the long-term well-being of the agency model, mentoring is essential. Agencies are losing talent to Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Wall Street. Shops need to embrace initiatives that offer young professionals attractive opportunities to learn and grow. "This generation's hunger for varied experiences increases the need for mentors," said Singleton Beato, evp of diversity, inclusion strategy and talent development at the 4A's. "If you want them to stay for any length of time, you have to provide them with human beings who can provide honest direction and feedback," schooling them in virtually all aspects of the agency business. Adds Padin: "These young people are the future of our business. If we don't mentor well now, the business has no future."

Of course, the types of mentoring agencies can provide vary widely based on company size, culture and configuration. Increasingly, larger organizations are implementing mentoring across tiers. For example, Dentsu Aegis maintains a global program to nurture high-potential employees, while its mcgarrybowen division offers cross-disciplinary courses to increase industry skills and professional knowledge. As the year began, mcgarrybowen group managing director Maureen Falvey and managing director Kristen Simon launched an initiative to foster one-on-one engagement. "Employees told us this was something they really wanted," Falvey said. "The goal was to provide coaching and development outside of their day-to-day direct report."

So far, about 100 such mentoring relationships have been formed at mcgarrybowen, and Falvey is paired with Amy Laughlin, a young account executive. Falvey recently advised Laughlin about how to make a case for a raise and promotion. "I ended up being promoted [from assistant account executive to account executive], and Maureen gave me that confidence" to pursue that goal, Laughlin said.

This story first appeared in the Sept. 28 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@DaveGian davegia@hotmail.com David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.