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Taking Control of Your Marketing Career Part 1: Mentoring That Means Results

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Can you be successful in the marketing world today without a good mentor? Possibly, but a good mentor improves the odds that you will be both noticed and nurtured. A mentor can not only open doors for a marketing employee but also help him or her learn how to navigate a complex organization, gain insights that would take years to develop on his or her own, and develop critical influence and negotiation skills as well.

More and more, organizations understand that mentoring is an important way for them to develop and retain their key employees. All of the marketing courses in the world don’t prepare a marcom manager for the political battle he or she may find him or herself in when two competing divisions argue about the implementation of a marketing campaign. It would take years of additional in-the-trench experiences for a young product-marketing manager to understand the broader, corporate-wide implications of a key strategic-product-roadmap decision. Mentors share their knowledge of marketing, the organization, the product or industry, or even the business world in general to help guide and steer employees-without solving problems for them. Mentors also can help individuals review and analyze less-than-successful situations, understanding what went wrong and offering advice for more-impactful results in the future.

Some organizations choose to implement formal mentoring programs, with established agreements between mentors and mentees, that include guidelines for the length of the mentoring relationships and the frequency of mentoring meetings. Others foster mentoring by encouraging the development of informal mentoring relationships at both senior and junior levels within their organizations. At some places, the individual is left on his or her own to find a mentor, convince him or her of the value of the process, and build an ongoing mentoring relationship.

Whatever the case, there are five things to keep in mind as you pursue a mentoring relationship:
  • Don’t follow the masses: The most popular or well-known executive is not always the best choice for a mentor. Mentors should have relevant experience to share and the desire and time to share it. The executive who is not in the limelight may have great insights for you and time to share them as well.

  • Expand your horizons: Look for a mentor with a somewhat different background, gender, set of experiences, or contacts than yours. This is an opportunity for you to grow and expand your frame of reference. Consider a mentor outside of the marketing organization—perhaps in sales, finance, or operations. He or she can provide an external perspective on marketing that may be quite valuable to you in your day-to-day work.

  • It’s a two-way street: Mentors can gain as much from the process as mentees. Each person should consider what he or she brings to the experience and how discussions can be valuable to his or her partners. Ask your mentors how you can support them in their roles. One possibility: provide in-the-trenches insights they may not be getting from their vantage points.

  • Set reasonable expectations: Agree with your mentor, in advance, on what areas you’ll work, the timeframe for the relationship, and the frequency of discussions. Be flexible in adapting to changing business and organizational needs. Be respectful of each other’s time and schedules and always honor confidentiality when requested.

  • Chemistry is important: Like many other relationships, mentoring is built on trust and on common ground. In some cases, you and your mentor may not be a good fit. Or, after a period of time, you may find you’ve outgrown each other. It’s not the end of the world. Acknowledge the good work you’ve done together, then part amiably and move on.
An added bonus of this experience is that you’ll learn by example what makes a good mentor. Before you know it, there will come a time when a young marketing professional approaches you looking for a little mentoring. Remember the value of the mentoring your mentor gave to you, and take the opportunity to return the favor.

About the Author

Linda Popky is the president of L2M Associates, a Redwood City, California-based strategic marketing company that helps organizations dramatically improve their returns on investments on marketing programs, processes, and people. Learn more about how to leverage your marketing investment by visiting her website at or contacting her at
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