In South Africa, the advertising world is rather small. In fact, it’s damned-near incestuous. There are only so many good agencies and only so many high-profile clients. That makes success is hard to come by. So here’s a heads up for any new copywriting-blood: besides your shiny new pen and your new Macbook, there’s one other ingredient you’re gonna need for success out there and that’s a mentor.
Of course, that means displaying some humility and acknowledging that you may not actually know everything there is to know about advertising/copywriting – but (surprisingly) people have managed to live their lives without any serious harm coming to them as a result of such an admission, so you should be fine…
Like Yoda says, “Much to learn, you still have.”
Richard Branson had a mentor. So did Mozart, Lance Armstrong and Alexander the Great.
True mentors are hard to find. The reason is that most people who set themselves up as mentors are generally self-aggrandising blowhards or worse: they really like the idea of being a mentor but don’t really want to see you succeed. It’s almost impossible to find someone who’s willing to part with knowledge that may advantage you to their own imagined detriment. Don’t make the mistake of profiling your mentor against the criteria used for motivational speakers. In other words, don’t look for someone who drives a flash car or lives in a mansion overlooking the ocean – in this industry especially the trappings of wealth are no indication of talent or competence. Award winners? That’s a grey area. If you can deal with the almost inevitable ego that accompanies the statuette, go for it. But remember what Yoda says: “Too sure of themselves they are. Even the older, more experienced ones.”
If you’re looking for a real mentor, the person you want is the one who comes recommended by others. These recommendations may be explicit or implicit but you’ll get the idea that Ms X is not only talented but generous with her knowledge and experience.
So how do you approach a potential mentor? Sincerely. Don’t suck up. Be honest and tell your mentor why you want to her to share her knowledge with you. Be ready to learn. And don’t become the parasite in the ecosystem. Set up a value exchange with your mentor. This takes a little more effort on your part, but help her achieve more and she’ll help you more – think recommendations and referrals. And in turn you should use the knowledge you’ve gained to help others. Pay it forward. That’s what mentoring is: helping someone reach heights beyond yours. And with the exception of that little incident between Anakin and Obi-wan, every mentor wants to see the apprentice achieve greatness.
In closing, here’s a final word from Yoda: “Good relations with the Wookies, I have”