Early Career Lessons Learned – and Taught
I’m still relatively new at this business. I’ve been with Ceisler Media less than two years. I’ve had the opportunity to work on a wide range of accounts and projects – some as inherently exciting as the American Airlines and Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl rally towel campaign.
And I’ve learned a lot – enough that I can actually pause to reflect on the valuable skills and training I’ve picked up at the start of my career. Needless to say, the lessons you receive in school don’t always apply when you are thrown into the real world.
So consider this post almost as a letter to myself – what Elise Corbett would say to that young woman wearing the cap and gown at La Salle University’s graduation and planning to enter the business world not too long ago. Perhaps you’ll find it useful as well.
Media relationships matter.
If you are a young professional in this industry, it doesn’t take long to realize how valuable relationships are. I still marvel that our directors can call up a beat reporter they’ve known for years, give them a short pitch on one of our clients, and nearly always get them to cover the story.
While I have met journalists from our media market through various Philadelphia Public Relations Association (PPRA) and Chamber events, I’ve come to realize that nothing can beat working with a reporter for an extended period of time and building trust with one another. So it’s a priority for me to take the time to work on developing those relationships with media, so one day a young associate can marvel at my Rolodex (yes, I know what that is).
Professional relationships matter just as much.
Relationships aren’t only important for landing client stories. They matter in the office, too. In fact, my entire journey with Ceisler Media started through a relationship. An alumna from La Salle University who I loosely knew at the time posted the Associate job opening on LinkedIn, and that’s how I ended up applying for my current position. She also became my go-to person for any questions I had about clients that we worked on together, or any general Ceisler office protocol.
Find yourself a sponsor.
This same person also lent me a book a few months into my job from which I learned one of the best pieces of advice I will take with me throughout my entire professional life. In Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s memoir, Off the Sidelines: Speak Up, Be Fearless, and Change Your World, she mentions that people always talk of the importance of finding a mentor - someone in your industry outside of your company who you trust for sage professional advice. She acknowledged that while mentors are important, of equal or even greater importance is finding a sponsor.
To paraphrase the New York senator, a sponsor is a person who will speak on your behalf in the top-level, closed-door meetings you're not invited to. This person is someone who holds a management position and who you produce work for. They are different than a mentor, because their success is now partly dependent on your success, so it’s advantageous for them to make sure you are happy and to advocate for you. This quick description may sound purely transactional, but finding a sponsor – especially for someone as green as me – has made my time at Ceisler fulfilling. I know I’m not just a low-level associate who is expected to crank out busy work, but I’m actually a valued member of the team whose voice is heard.
Don’t be surprised – or insulted – when people classify you as “young.”
I’ve used the phrase “young professional” throughout this piece. So, yes, I understand that I am young compared to more seasoned folks who have been doing this work for decades. That does not mean, however, that it isn’t demeaning every time I walk into a room and hear a client ask, “How old are you?” or variations of that phrase. (One time I walked right into it when I said to a client, “I haven’t been to this event space since high school,” to which he quickly responded “And when was that, last year?” Hilarious.)
At first, when people voiced this, I took it as a stinging offense. I would instantly start to doubt my abilities. Who would take the advice of a young twenty-something?
But now, I’ve flipped the script in my mind and take comments like these as a compliment. I now view them as a testament to my skillset that I am in the room with professionals 20, 30 or sometimes 40 years my senior. And I now know that they want to hear what I have to say. As our principal, Larry Ceisler, always reminds me, “This is why people hire us, they want us to tell them what to do.”
I know someday I will have the opportunity to be someone’s professional sponsor, and clients will stop wondering on first glance if I’m a full time employee or the college intern. And I’ll no doubt yearn for the days when I had fewer responsibilities and fewer wrinkles.
Until then, I look forward to learning more lessons, and perhaps sharing a few.
Elise Corbett is an Associate in Ceisler Media's Philadelphia office.