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“Never too senior to be mentored”

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Riot Communications head Preena Gadher talks about a year in the life of an MD mentee as a participant in the PR Week / Women in PR mentoring scheme.


Oprah Winfrey, a role model of mine, said: “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself”.

Having never worked in a PR agency before, let alone run one, starting my own was always the unorthodox choice, (which was also the appeal). We grew from bedroom start-up to a team of 9 based in our East London office over 7 years; growth had been organic and work came in through word of mouth. All well and good, but I knew it was time for more rigour and structure within our organisation if we were to grow sustainably.

It was at this point that I read about the Women in PR / PR Week mentoring scheme and wondered if they’d consider an application from an MD. Would they think I was too senior to apply? After all, many of the mentors were MDs themselves.

I’m a firm believer that you are never too far in your career to benefit from the guidance and experience of someone who has successfully trodden the path before you, and I knew exactly what I was looking for in a mentor: it was important that they had founded their own agency, run it day to day and successfully grown it.

Lucky for me my application was accepted – I found the committee to be very open about who could apply and being an MD was not an issue at all – and I was paired with serial entrepreneur, and Founder of Shine Communications (amongst other agencies), Rachel Bell. For those of you who don’t know Rachel, she has an intimidating CV; with 20 years of entrepreneurship in the PR industry and a raft of awards in her trophy cabinet, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was daunted by the prospect of working with her. Our first meeting was not dissimilar to an episode of Dragons’ Den – fortunately, it’s one of my favourite programmes!  But here was the rigour I was looking for and I immediately knew that Rachel would challenge me in exactly the right way.

Over the course of the programme – 10 months at the point of writing – Rachel has been unbelievably generous with her time and advice, coupled with her warmth and great sense of humour. We have met on average once a month and spoken on the phone a lot in between. And for me, it’s been an amazing journey of both business and personal discovery. Rachel has worked with me to set targets and KPIs to monitor the health of our agency. We have been working on short and long term objectives, and she has given advice on the end of a phone for day to day issues when sometimes you just need an objective second opinion. As a result of working together, we have seen an increase in both fee income and profitability.

From a personal point of view, the most valuable aspect of the mentoring has been finding a renewed confidence in my ability as a leader. It has been refreshing to see that some of the challenges you face as an MD are not new and are solvable when you know how!

Overall, the mentoring programme has been the best learning and development opportunity of my career to date. I feel very privileged to have had the chance to learn from one of the finest in the industry, and thanks to Rachel I leave the programme with the hope inside me burning bright!

My top 5 tips for successful mentoring:

  1. Be clear on the application form about what you want to get out of the mentoring – that way the committee can match you with the right mentor
  2. Come with objectives – overall and for each meeting; know what you want to get out of the sessions so they are focused
  3. Be open minded – your mentor may challenge you and that’s a good thing
  4. You get out of it what you put in – I prioritised my mentoring sessions as the opportunity to work with my mentor was invaluable, plus it was too embarrassing not to come prepared!
  5. It’s ok to be vulnerable – there aren’t many opportunities to be that in professional life but a good mentor is not going to judge you

Preena Gadher is co-founder and MD of consumer PR agency, Riot Communications. You can find Preena on twitter as @Ms_Riot and Rachel Bell as @BellRachel.