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Women in PR/PR Week Mentoring Scheme alumni reveal how the scheme has positively impacted their careers

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Women in PR Committee members, Sarah Samee, Anna Geffert and Vice President Claire Foster reflect on the difference mentoring has made to them since winning their places on the programme.

Sarah: “Last year, I wrote about how the mentoring scheme helped me fall back in love with PR in 2015 (if you missed it, you can read it again here), and I am pleased to report the honeymoon period is not over.   2018 was my first year on the Women in PR Committee and it’s been brilliant. My #prgirlsquad has been massively extended and as an inclusive bunch, under Bibi Hilton’s leadership I’ve met a few inspiring men too.

For me personally, the biggest thing the scheme gave me was my confidence back. Like a lot of women (and I am sure some men too), I was suffering from imposter syndrome, struggling to be positive about my accomplishments and I was letting my own socio-demographic chip hold me back (brown girl from a Surrey council-estate – yes, we exist and yes, I have an entire Netflix series in me waiting to be written).

Four years on, I have led an award-winning comms team at Cifas, have an exec coach and am now Vice Chair of Sutton Carers’ Centre.  Mentoring and making the time to invest in yourself works.  I think we’re at such an exciting point in PR history – the work of the Taylor Bennett Foundation and BMEPros (I have a girl crush on @elizabethbananuka she owns Twitter in my eyes) has made the industry stand up and listen, we’re making huge strides in creativity and measurement, and securing PR in its rightful place as a strategic management function. I genuinely think there has never been a better time to work in PR to share our stories – have I made it obvious I am the WIPR blog editor?  Anyway – enough of my ramblings! I’ve interviewed my fellow alumni and WIPR Committee members, Newgate’s Anna Geffert, and Direct Line Group’s Claire Foster (who only few weeks ago won PRCA’s City and Financial Professional of the Year Award – boom!) about their own experiences.

I cheekily interrupted their maternity leave to ask these probing questions….”

Q: Ladies, let me first congratulate you on your new arrivals! It brings me great joy to know that these boys are being brought up by two strong, highly accomplished women and not 1950s housewives (please laugh, readers!). How much are you missing me/being on the Committee?

CLAIRE: “I’ve definitely got my hands full. Six weeks in (after a traumatic birth) there are lots of smiles and cuddles which compensate for the lack of sleep!”

ANNA: “Thanks Sarah! As this is my second round of maternity leave I was really keen to ensure I kept in touch with what is going on in the industry and keep the baby brain ticking over. My work on the Committee allows me to do this without the high-pressure deadlines of client work, plus it is fantastic to have such a strong support network, as returning to work and balancing motherhood with your career can often be a challenge.”

Q: Who was your mentor and do you think you were well-matched?

CLAIRE: “At the time, I was a PR manager in the Brand Media Relations team at Direct Line Group and I was matched with the formidable Gay Collins, founder of Montfort Communications. I think it was a great match with our financial services/corporate connections. Gay took the time to listen to me and support me. She understood how much I enjoyed working in-house and that I loved the brands I was responsible for.  She helped me grow my gravitas and was a catalyst for a number of huge achievements.”

ANNA: “My mentor was Shelley Facius, who has a big agency background so knows the pressures that client work brings.  Even before the mentoring programme officially got underway she was helping me in a post maternity-leave career move and inspiring me to achieve my full potential. To have guidance from someone objective and senior in the industry, especially if you are returning to work after maternity leave, when you often feel under-confident or uncertain of how to balance family/work life, is truly invaluable and has given me a tremendous amount of belief in myself and my potential.”

Q: What was the most meaningful piece of advice they gave you?

CLAIRE: “Rather than trying to encourage me to look for another job, she said let’s make your role the best it can be. Which is exactly what we did. Balancing work output and being more involved in the industry has not only given me purpose, but I have enjoyed it too.”

ANNA: “At the time, I was moving to a new company where I was the only part-time person in the team and I was learning a new sector, so it was a tough challenge. Shelley told me to “go for it!” and have faith in my own skillsets and abilities, which really inspired me. Having her to turn to when there were issues or bumps in the road gave me a lot of confidence.

Q: What’s the biggest difference the mentoring scheme has made to you?

CLAIRE: “Gay pushed me to step out of my comfort zone, giving me courage and support to succeed. Without her as my advisor and cheerleader, I’m not sure I would have the role I do now as a senior manager in the corporate and financial team. I joined the new team in April last year and within four weeks I fell pregnant. So to win the PRCA’s City and Financial Professional of the Year in February was incredible. Likewise, my role on the Women in PR committee. The chain of events and opportunities began with a conversation with Gay, and I’m not sure any of this would have happened if I hadn’t been on the mentoring scheme.“

ANNA: “It made me realise how important networks like Women in PR are when building a successful career. You don’t need to do it be yourself, there is an incredible support structure out there which can help with any challenge, great or small. That is why I ran for the Committee last year and have been so humbled and amazed by the fantastic group of female leaders who I’m able to work and meet with on a regular basis.”

Q: Why would you encourage PRs to enter the scheme and do you have any advice for the application process?

CLAIRE: “The mentoring doesn’t just stop after 12 months. You will build your network through the mentors, mentees, Women in PR committee and events. I don’t just have Gay mentoring me, I have

an army of supporters that I can turn to. They celebrate my success, and commisserate my losses, they push my development and make me better.”

ANNA: “If you are thinking of applying, be really clear about your objectives. Don’t submit an application with something you should be getting from your line manager. This is a unique opportunity to gain insight and coaching from the best female leaders in the industry. Whether you want to set up your own agency, move sector, or return to work after maternity leave, we have an amazing mentor for you.

The mentoring programme is not a tick box exercise, I am meeting up with Shelley for lunch soon with my new baby and it’s been two years since she officially mentored me. The relationships and networks you create through the programme will support you throughout your career and enable you to overcome hurdles and push yourself to achieve your goals.”

If you are a subscriber to PRWeek you can read the news story about our launch of the scheme here.

If you are inspired by these stories about how having a mentor has propelled our committee members to success and given them support along the way, apply today – you have until Friday 29th March. You have nothing to lose!

Read Anna’s original mentoring scheme blog.

Read Claire’s original mentoring scheme blog.