Finding Your Champions

For one summer in college, I interned at a large agency in Los Angeles. One afternoon, the internship coordinator herded all the interns into a conference room, and singled one of us out—let's call him Jay. Jay had been using the internal directory to randomly call people all over the agency, hoping to network and pick their brains. He received a hand-smacking lecture on office etiquette while the rest of us looked awkwardly at the ground. 

In hindsight, while his methods were disruptive and pretty presumptuous, Jay had the right idea. We should always be looking for our champions. The people in our corner who'll give us opportunities to prove what we can do, counsel us when we're stuck, and push to get us what we need to succeed. I can say with zero exaggeration that any marker of achievement in my career, be it title or awards, came from having solid champions.

Examples of champions. Find your Hermiones, Yodas, Qs and Ancient Ones.

Examples of champions. Find your Hermiones, Yodas, Qs and Ancient Ones.

Champions come in several forms. If you know where to look, mentors who will teach and guide you are everywhere. Look outside your own department—there's so much to be learned from those who approach problems from another angle. Here's another tip: mentors don't have to be more senior than you. I've had design interns school me on how to make my presentation decks more visually effective. Whomever you find, zone in on something specific that this person alone can teach you, and make it the focus when you reach out to them. 

Find creative inspirers. One thing I love about agencies is that they're filled with people using their creativity to do interesting things on the side. At this year's holiday party, ask coworkers what they're working on outside the office and watch them light up. Let what others are doing around you stoke your own creativity, then apply it to work-related and personal projects. 

Lastly, get to know your internal Communications/PR team. Most midsize to large agencies will have a person or team whose job is to get the agency's name out there in the trade press. This often happens through the agency's work (news of a campaign launch or a pitch win), but also through its people. The more recognition its employees receive, the more awards they win and articles they write—the better the agency looks. If getting yourself out there in the industry is something you're interested in, the Communications team can connect you with the right people—and make you look really good. 

Your champions are out there, and it never hurts to ask. Obvi, don't pull a Jay—be respectful of time and boundaries. When outreach is done right, it's a privilege to be asked to influence someone's career. Your future champions may not even know that they're seen that way, or that their experience is valuable to you. It's up to you to find and unlock them.

Always in your corner,