Mentorship is a two-way gift between the mentor and the mentee because knowledge, inspiration and wisdom can be passed both ways. A lifelong learner is always learning. Listen in to three seasoned PR pros from the PRSA Oregon Chapter, Mara Woloshin, APR and PRSA Fellow, Patti Atkins, APR and Dave Thompson, APR, as they share their stories from decades – yes decades – of providing mentorship to up-and-coming PR Professionals!
Watch the video:
Read the transcript:
Mentorship is a two-way gift between the mentor and the mentee because knowledge, inspiration and wisdom can be passed both ways. A lifelong learner is always learning. Listen in to three seasoned PR pros from the PRSA Oregon Chapter, Mara Woloshin, Patti Atkins and Dave Thompson as they share their stories from decades – yes decades – of providing mentorship to up-and-coming PR Professionals!
Welcome to season two of better PR a podcast for public relations practitioners who are looking to advance their careers. Whether you’re a new practitioner mid-career or a senior practitioner we’ll have fantastic discussions that will reignite your love of PR. We’ll also learn about accreditation in PR through the public relations Society of America. Better PR is brought to you by in plain sight marketing, a full-service public relations and marketing agency located in Carson City, Nevada, and by the Sierra Nevada chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. I’m your host, Kathie Taylor APR, and today I’m recording at the studio at the Adams Hub for innovation in Carson City.
Today our guests are from the Portland area, we have Mara will ocean APR and fellow PRSA of ocean Communications Inc. Good morning, Mara.
We have Patti Atkins APR from PR Patti, marketing and communications. Good morning, Patti.
And we have Dave Thompson, a PR independent practitioner. This fabulous team sponsors mentoring programs for accreditation and PR candidates, not only in Oregon, but they recently opened it up for the entire North Pacific District of PRSA. Today, we’re talking about the value of mentorship, being a mentor and having a mentor and as well as relationship building. Thank you all for being here this morning.
So, we were chatting before we started recording about the fact that Patti, you and Mara have been doing this APR accreditation coaching class for two decades now.
At least Yeah. Tell them, Patti, tell them.
Oh, Mara had been doing it for quite a few years and actually was one of my instructors when I went back to school at Merrill first, to get my public relations degree. And then I took the class several times in the early 2000s and took my test in 2005. And pass then and then I joined the teaching cadre that I’ve been a coach for 12 years now. And when I took the class, Mara and Patti were teaching it, we’re coaching it. So, they’ve been doing this for a long time, they’ve been my mentor for more than a decade. And, and now I’m, you know, 12 years into coaching for the ABR class, it’s so much fun.
It’s a lot of fun, which is why we continue to do it. I have the distinction of taking the old APR exam. And then during Patti’s time, when the new computer-based exam came out, we were allowed to take that exam as well. But based on Patti’s feedback, we were able to restructure how we taught APR. And we think we’ve got, we actually studied the team studied in depth about adult learners, and PR practitioners and what we’re all about, and dove into the psychographics of learning, and came up with a structure for a course that I think it’s working. I mean, I think after all these years, and now that we have, I don’t know, Patti? David, we have 17 candidates from across the United States,
from the western half of the United States, Western America, North Dakota West.
Yeah, I mean, and we’d be happy for others to in our free course. And free for us is really important because we see the APR instruction and support as a direct member benefit for PRSA. And a lot of times over the years, we hear people make noise about what’s the benefit of being a member, what’s the benefit of being a member? Well, this is clearly a benefit. And it pays you back in spades. Plus, and Kathie, I know you talked about this, the camaraderie that has come out of these courses are now over two decades of people staying connected. wherever they go, whatever they’re doing, they actually have beyond a textbook resource, a very rich human resource.
Yeah. As I say from a chapter perspective, the APR course is also a pipeline into chapter leadership. Most chapters require an APR to at least be the president of the chapter in two or three other positions at least. And so, these are people that are in PR enough to pursue the study that actually might be interested in leadership as well.
One of the things I get out of PRSA is that that family feeling of people I can call anytime, basically anywhere, when I have a, an issue, in, in my career or in my job, my boss comes to me and says, I want to do this. And, you know, I can call Patti or Mara, or, or any of the APRs that I’ve met, and say, Hey, I need your help coming up with an answer for this, because years ago, the boss came to me and said, I want to start an Instagram account. Okay, what does that mean? At that point, I’d never been on Instagram. So, I started calling around to people who already had bed, and I knew exactly who to call. And yeah, they’re busy, they don’t have time, they took the time because we’re family. And a PRSA helps build that, that connection. But going through the APR class, together with a group of other students working with the coaches, everybody bonds, every year, we have this group of people who are going to stick together, virtually for the rest of their careers and call on each other. Because they got to know each other pretty well. Going through that, that multi-week, once a week, couple of hours of debating, arguing, listening, coaching, trying to figure out what all this stuff means and how we do it ethically and in a way that fulfills good community values. Where do you find that anyplace else?
Yeah, most of us are independent practitioners, or we’re in a team of one in an organization, there are very few places where people understand and want to talk and debate the topic of PR. And that’s how we end up creating that family.
As a guest, coach, in, your class this year, I was so honored, first of all, to be able to sit in and kibitz on the class. But even to get to coach one of the modules, I was really struck by the relationships that you all have. And I can tell you that I studied for this with a friend, he dragged me kicking and screaming into the whole process. And we worked together every Sunday, we would do the online class during the week. And then on Sunday, we’d get together, and we would do the same thing, talk, and debate and kick stuff around. And it really helped. But I feel this group that you have with these 17 candidates from around the region is such a gift. And I wish I’d had such a thing when I went through my IPR process three or four years ago. So that’s something I think you mentioned, Patti, that your independent practitioners, and I think that the network that you have created, and the relationship of trust, between all of you, is really a gift. It’s really something outstanding.
I think we’ve evolved because public relations has evolved to a rich number of members being independent practitioners, when we first started, there are people, most of the people were parts of companies. But again, they were a department of one department of three. And what often happens in this class is because it is confidential, we respect each other’s confidentiality. There’s oh my god True Confessions. Can I please tell you what happened to me this week, and Hey, guys, helped me out? Because sometimes people just need to unload about the pressures and the responsibilities and the frustrations of work. And sometimes there’s a real-life problem in addition to what we’re going to cover with the curriculum, and all of a sudden, you’ve got a brain trust. You have a comfortable trustable credible brain trust that you say, my boss said this, my client said that what in heaven’s name am I going to do? And it’s, it’s, I enjoy those. I enjoyed those sessions. And obviously, I think we all enjoy doing this we learn. And Kathie when you talk about mentoring and mentees and mentors, it’s kind of a wonderful blurry thing. Because every session I have always learned something
every learner As much as we share. Absolutely, that’s why we do it. We’d love to hear about how people are solving problems in new, new and unique ways, including things like podcasts. I think this is really cool. And Kathie, I speak for the rest of us, but you could be a coach for life if you want it to be.
I love it. I agree with you. I have learned so much these past several weeks. Gosh, we’ve been at this since March, I think. Yeah. And it is now June. And I’ve learned a ton. And I, I have to say that your commitment for 20 years of doing this for 20 years is really outstanding. You are truly outstanding in your field. And I think that there’s a joke about cows and fields because I’m gonna pass on up. Yeah. But I think a lot. Thank you. Okay, let’s not start with the jokes. Okay. I get very dangerous. I think we’re right, David. remotely dangerous. I promise. Okay. Okay, I’ll stop funding. But I do think that it is to be mentioned that your commitment to advancing the practice of public relations is truly to be marveled at and to be respected. And I’m honored to be a part of it. So, thank you for that, Patti. I appreciate it. So, one of the things that I thought was really cool that came out of our conversation so far is we are all senior practitioners. And yet we are all kind of looking at each other as mentors as well as mentoring up-and-coming practitioners. And I think that’s kind of a neat distinction to note that senior practitioners, we all need mentorship as well.
Absolutely. It’s, it’s, it’s critical. And it all changes. So quickly, everything changes so quickly, these days, it changes and what I have seen, I think I’ve been a member since 1989 1988. Is that, yeah, ouch. Anyway, people get into it, and then they, they get to the senior level, and they drift away. They don’t do what we’re doing, which is continuing to mentor each other, learn from the new crop of folks coming in, and reinforce, and look in a different way, with our wiser aged brains at some of the concepts behind the body of knowledge of public relations, which is a social science. So, it can be an amazing experience. It’s always sad when somebody has fallen away from membership or the chapter, and not found their own way to be involved. For me, and I think for Dave, and I think for Patti, and now for you, Kathie, you found a very comfortable way to be involved, that you use your expertise, but your mind gets to soak up exciting new information and concepts.
I try to evolve. I try to involve older, your senior practitioners in the readiness reviews that like panelists and stuff. But often they don’t have enough time for that these you know, it’s just, they’re busy building their practices and working.
One of the things that our chapter here this year Nevada chapter is doing is they have created a senior practitioners roundtable group. One of the practitioners felt that the offerings that the chapter was doing were more geared towards younger practitioners. And so, they kind of created this little splinter group, which is great because there’s additional information to be had. And so, what we’re trying to do now is bring it all back in under the same umbrella because we have such a wide range of practitioners in our chapter that we can all benefit from all of the information that’s put out there. What kind of advice would you give to a chapter that’s looking to create programming that appeals to all age groups of practitioners at all levels?
This is exactly what strategic communications planning is all about. Let’s identify the different audiences. We don’t have one audience of members, we have multiple audiences, of groups of members, each of which has its own needs, and its own way of communicating. So naturally, when you look at any chapters, professional development offerings, they typically run for the stuff that’s low-hanging fruit, easy to produce. Do is like meet the media, or how to be interviewed, or basic crisis communications.
But as you just pointed out, Kathie, the senior leadership, or the senior members have a different need. Therefore, they should be treated as a different audience. And the people who are doing the professional development programming should be using their strategic communication skills to not only identify the audience but figure out what those needs are through situational analysis.
Most of us who are moving up into the mid or higher levels of our career, or later levels, I should say, we need other kinds of things. With the budget experiences we need, we need practice in creating the budget, maintaining the budget, manage about it, reaching reading a budget document put forward by the CEO of our company, we, we need leadership training, we need training and how to be a mentor, we’re going to when we are How many times have we all face this, we have a team of one or a team of two.
And we’re given permission to hire some interns. We don’t know what to do with the interns or how to help them help us at that sort of training, or just as we just been talking here, just being able to talk and have that roundtable where you can just have lunch together or a quick drink after work. But being able to break into pairs or threes or small groups to go, you know, I ran into this. What did you do when you were adding to that? What do you do with recalcitrant clients? Who are the ones who won’t pay or expect a 10%? discount? What? You know, we’re not a major corporation, and we don’t have 90 days to float your bill. It’s that sort of thing American Express either. Yeah, yeah. It’s the needs are different. So, the programming should be different. But it to me, it all falls under the same idea of what we’re supposed to be doing all along, is using our skills and in strategic communications planning to figure out what campaign what messages, what advice, different groups need. And I keep seeing chapters treat members as this one conglomerate glue, like the public. And we’ve gotten away from that when we teach in practice, but we don’t do it when we set up our professional development programs.
Well, that’s the benefit of having senior practitioners in chapter leadership. Yeah, communicators.
I have always, I’m sorry. I’m dying to talk. I have always felt, and we see it sometimes when we witness readiness reviews, senior practitioners would end and younger practitioners would love to witness and tear apart participate in a case study, whether you’re trying to figure out the overhead the budget, the profit center, the communication issue, the structure of it. We don’t get that kind of opportunity. We will have somebody present a case study. I’ve seen it as programming, but to rip it apart, to take the pieces of it to it’s part of my culture, you know.
Yeah, you could evaluate and think about other ways to maybe accomplish
Yeah, was this the best methodology to use for this piece? The tactic the was the strategy off base was the strategy right on but you couldn’t foresee that there’s going to be a building explode in the middle of your campaign and you know that sort of thing. We don’t get that’s kind of the kitchen sink nitty-gritty. A member actually expressing their opinion and utilizing their brain cells, which is we don’t ask our members to do that. Very often. We’re, we’re PRSA chapters are very guilty of one-way communication.
We know by word. We have an award in our chapter for what we call close but no cigar. Or you had an amazing campaign, and something really happened and blew it up. And one of the members, my brother-in-law, who’s now gone, he did a campaign for Fort Clatsop National Park. And they were rebuilding the camp, the encampment for the Lewis and Clark trail. And so, he had this huge campaign plan for the Lewis and Clark trail read the rededication of this academy and the trail. And the day before they were supposed to do the grand opening, that the encampment burned down.
They actually used all of the work that you used to communicate to the media about the disaster and the recovery from the disaster and those kinds of things. But it wasn’t the campaign he planned on. And so that’s the kind of thing I’m thinking about more when you talk about that is how we evaluate things that were perfect that were well planned and well thought out, but maybe didn’t quite hit the mark, for whatever reason. And sometimes it’s a natural disaster, or a pandemic, or a building blowing up, or something happening. But that, you know, you can evaluate and talk about it so that the next time that happens, you go, Hey, I got that, you know?
Yeah. And, and, I mean, we do a good job of how-tos. But we don’t deal with some of the current how to’s, like how to survive as a small business, how to structure yourself, how to Bill, how to write a con, I mean, I don’t know how many people I’ve mailed off my contracts to so that they have what’s been proven as a legally viable contract to offer their clients. So, in and I know that there is the independent practitioner section. But I haven’t seen that kind of nitty-gritty how-to stuff in that area offered. But maybe I haven’t been paying attention I don’t.
Well, it’s interesting, because as a small boutique agency here in Northern Nevada, we struggle with the same kinds of things. My daughter is my business partner, and we started she started the company before I joined her, but, you know, with those same challenges, how do we scale the business? How do we grow? What are some of the best things we can do, we just hired a remote HR company to come in and help us because we’re growing at a pace that we can’t keep up with. And I think I have seven emails in my email box right now that are compliance training, harassment, training, all the training that I have to take and sign and it’s a gift, it is a gift to be able to lift those things off our shoulders, so we can focus on what we do best, which is PR and marketing and billable time making.
I mean, the other thing that’s really hard, we’re all helpers in that. I mean, maybe that’s why Dave and Patti and I, and everybody else does the APR, because we’d like to help. Well, it’s hard when you want to help bill.
Yeah, that billable time is critical.
But we deserve and have a right to make a profit, otherwise, we’re not going to exist anymore. And it’s really hard. And it’s really hard when a client, you know, I talked to somebody yesterday, who said they had sticker shock. The client had sticker shock because he presented the whole contract and his billable time. And he said, yeah, that’s what you know, that’s what I charge. But here’s what you’re buying. And he had a great answer for that. But at the same time, I’m going off, I’m going off on a tangent, Dave, control me, please?
I wouldn’t even think you could. Well, let’s do this. Let’s close off our communication today and talk about the value of accreditation. How has it helped you all in your careers? And why would you encourage someone who was at a point in their career, one of the things we’re trying to do it in the Sierra chapter is to encourage our younger practitioners to take advantage of this amazing thing. So, to help them build and advance their careers over time because we see as you see the value that it gives to the profession, the elevation that it gives to the profession and our credibility at the table with decision-makers. So, if you could each quickly talk about how the APR helped you in your career and what advice you’d give to a practitioner with a minimum of five years and plus, in practice. We’ll start with you, Dave.
Okay. My background, my degree in college was in mathematics. I had no idea the last thing in the world I wanted to do was even take a speech class because I didn’t want to take English classes because I’d have to write papers and that was just not my strength. Fast forward a number of years. I’m working as a research scientist in computer science. This is the late 1970s. So, it’s a very long time ago. And I realized, I’m just not happy. There are no people in my life.
My job at that time is to publish papers. And it doesn’t matter who I am or what I know, or I mean, it’s all about publishing papers, and there are no people in my life. And I started looking around, I was having my midlife crisis early. And I had to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up after going through all of this other stuff that perhaps was not the right stuff for me and make a long story short, I jumped, talking about midlife crisis, I jumped and became a television news reporter out of the blue, I had no idea what I was doing. And in those days, no small market, I could work my way in.
So, I moved from Los Angeles to Wausau, Wisconsin, God help me. beautiful little place that a lot of people have never heard of, to start a television news career and learned OJT all the way on the job training. Because I had no experience doing it. I did that for 20 years, was reasonably successful, ended up moving around the United States, like TV reporters do, and came up to Portland, worked in the TV market for eight years here to a total of 20 in the business, and realized it was time for me to move on to something elsewhere I had more control over my time.
So, I got a job because, as Patti noticed, I was well known in Portland. So, I got a job working for, for a company as their Director of Corporate Communications. And within the first week, my boss came to me and said, the boss, the big boss, the CEO, love the fact that you’re getting press, but he doesn’t know what you’re doing or why you’re doing it. So, he’s thinking of letting you go. That was my first week on the new job, and I’m going what I’m getting impressed.
And she said, Yeah, but you’re not using any sort of communications to explain to him, it’s his money, why you’re doing what you’re doing, and how much it’s gonna cost. And if it’s going to actually advance the company, the way the company wants to be advanced, you need to write, as she said, a strategic communications plan and present it to the boss next week, I had no idea what a strategic communications plan was.
So, I went home and started studying and realized, I didn’t know anything about public relations, any more than when I started 20 years before I knew anything about journalism, on the job training, wasn’t going to get me to where I needed to be.
So, I really worked over the next couple of years to study it on my own. And it took literally nine years and changing jobs to work for a state agency before I had the time and the commitment and the understanding to take the APR class, and then realize that I had some generally decent gut instincts. But not always. And I wouldn’t know if when I was good, or when I was bad. And I had no idea about evaluation.
And oh, my God, the entire APR process, not just getting it finally. But the process we went through in this class taught me so much. It profoundly changed everything I did in my job. I was taking this stuff back the next day after our class and using it at work. And my work was better my team’s work I was by that time I was one of the bosses, and I was leading them poorly. Literally, everything changed. Because of the process of working for the APR, it provided that lattice structure upon which to hang all of the knowledge I had, and all of the knowledge I didn’t that I was gaining.
My Readiness Review really was this, these two stories in one about this is what I did for my campaign and boy was that off base, here’s what I should have done. If only I had more fun with that campaign because it was a little bit of a catastrophe. It’s a better story.
It just showed how much I had learned. And the reason I became a coach was quite selfish, actually. I wanted to give back and I enjoy teaching. But it also just reinforces the learning. People who will ask questions, and I go, Hmm, I don’t know. I hadn’t thought of that. And I’ll go back and study the book. And I’ll talk to Patti and Mara. And we’ll come up with an answer that makes sense to everybody. And look, I’ve learned something. So, APR is, is forever learning. But it also provides that lattice structure to understand what you’re doing why you’re doing it. And what makes sense, and you can justify it to the boss in terms the boss understands. And oh, my God, you look good to the boss to never hurts.
Never hurts. That’s so true. Mara, how about you?
Oh, well, let’s just say APR has fed my brain and fed my family for 30 years.
Without accreditation, I would not have been able to start my business, I would not have been able to hire people, mentor people have people mentor me, learn from my clients learn what making a profit is. So, every aspect of being a confident, capable practitioner in professional communications, and being savvy enough to know understand and learn what it takes to be a successful businessperson. And then counsel businesspeople. It all started with the APR. It all it’s weird and wacky because I now can Ace just about any bizarre computer examination that exists because of the APR and the way we had to study for the computer examination. I mean, I’m a junkie, I, you know, do compliance testing and data testing and I have this license and that license. But it’s because APR structured my brain to be able to absorb new knowledge and understand how we learn. So has provided for a comfortable income. Yes. Has it provided for a viable career pathway based on a foundation of all knowledge? Yes. Has it provided camaraderie and support human support? Yes. I can’t think it’s, it’s, it’s a wonderful, marvelous thing. I wish we could, you know, gift it out more to more practitioners, especially as public relations evolves.
That’s fantastic. I love what you said, especially as a solo practitioner, or as a party of one in your position, having that support of your fellow APRs. Your chapter your mentors, the coaches that you work with is really phenomenal thing. Because it’s really easy as a party of one to get kind of caught up in what’s happening. But to be able to share it and get other ideas and fresh perspective is really, really huge. How about you, Patti?
So, I actually dropped out of college after High School because I went to university and didn’t really care for it much. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. A couple of years later, I got married and had a family.
So, in my 30s, I went back to a university here in the Portland area that specialized in teaching adult learners and didn’t have an idea what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to do something different. I’d been in retail management for a long time, I’d even worked in an ad agency and didn’t really care for that, in particular, it was a little too brutal back in those days.
So, I took a class at Marylhurst University. And actually, the class was run by the icon of public relations in the Pacific Northwest. And he brought in practitioners every week from throughout the Portland market who were doing amazing things. And every day, every night, I would go home from this class, it was three hours in the evening, I’d come home at like 10 o’clock at night. And my husband said I couldn’t stop talking about what I was learning. And he said, what’s really like that class, you just cannot stop talking about it. I didn’t even realize it. And now all of a sudden it hit me public relations is what I wanted to do.
So, I actually benefited from the fact that I went through a public relations program. So, I learned a lot of this stuff. But I learned it from people like Mara, and other leaders in our chapter. And I fact Mara was my internship director at Marylhurst. And a lot of other people in the chapter had been my mentors as well. So, when it came time to do the APR, it was a little easier for me because I had studied it. But what I find a lot in this profession is that people have backed into public relations from other careers like Dave, and they back into it, and they’re expected to do the job, but they don’t necessarily have the body of knowledge. And so, I find it really rewarding to help people understand not just what they do, but why they do it and explain the strategic thought that goes into to how we do our work, and it makes all of us better professionals and better practitioners. It just raises the level of the water for all the boats if you will.
Absolutely. I can’t agree with you more the idea of the how-to, is really critical. And when we talk to especially small businesses and people that we deal with on a day-to-day basis, is being able to really help them understand the ROI behind what they’re doing, why are you doing it? How are we doing it? And are we moving the needle for your overall business goals and objectives? I think it’s a, it’s a tremendous opportunity for us, to not only help each other as practitioners but to raise the economic health of our communities by providing that information.
And providing the how gives you the ability to explain to your clients why it’s important, or how it’s important. It’s not just I have a gut hunch, or I’ve done this before, and this worked for that client. It’s a this is why this works, or why this might not work. And so, it really is a process of strategic insight and thought and development as a professional,
And why what we charge in our fees are an investment in your future, rather than just a costly expense to the bottom line.
Absolutely. Thank you all so much. I’m so excited to have had you on the program. And I can’t wait for our next session to review some more of the readiness reviews with our class. Dave, how can people get ahold of you if somebody wants to reach out to you?
Dave at David h. thompson.com. Dave at DavidHThompson.com. All one word.
Perfect. Mara. How about you?
In the world actually, there are no two Woloshins in the state of Oregon but I’m Mara Mara@woloshin.com. And through PRSA I’m listed on the directory, and I welcome calls and emails and text messages, whatnot. That’s and join the class. You know, we’d love to have you help our class.
And Patti, how about you?
Thank you all so much for your time and for your dedication to the practice of public relations. You’ve been listening to better PR a podcast by and for public relations practitioners. If you want more information about the public relations Society of America, visit PRSA.org. And don’t forget to check me out at IPSMllc.com. Thank you.