The Thing about Mentoring...an interview with Brendan Kneeland, VP, MediaLink
Brendan Kneeland is a Vice President at MediaLink, a strategic advisory firm at the intersection of Madison Avenue, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and Wall Street. Brendan works with Fortune 100 CEOs, CMOs, and other top leadership across advertising, tech, and media companies to accelerate business opportunities, maximize the value of their ad agency ecosystems, and evolve internal and external brand strategies in a way that keeps his clients at the 'bleeding edge' of the media landscape. He prides himself on the relationships he builds with clients and is a strong believer in 'never forget where you came from' and paying it forward (and meaning it).
Brendan has been a dedicated MENTOR in FUTURE NOW's nine-month Mentoring Program and in the Speed Mentoring events held throughout the year. We asked him to give us his take on MENTORING and best practices for MENTEES to maximize their experience with their MENTORS.
Why are you so passionate about mentoring?
For me it’s not worth it to be in the business of media or creativity if you don’t have people you admire, people who inspire you, people you have fun with. Mentorship – not just top-down, wisdom-from-a-cloud mentorship, but real down-to-earth and empathetic advice from people who give a sh*t about you – THAT has been the bedrock of my career. The business ecosystem is not fair and I think it’s vital to help anyone who’s motivated to have a career or a start somewhere. Being able to do it for other people who are motivated, people who are unsure of what they want, and everywhere in between – it makes me feel my most human. It’s a virtuous circle that feeds itself. Try it!
How does one find a mentor? How did YOU find people to mentor you?
I found mentorship initially in my career through the International Radio and Television Society (IRTS). Things that have been of interest to me – media/marketing summits, and networking events for LGBT young professionals – were some early spots that I picked. Honestly, if you take a couple of your biggest passion points and Google those nouns with ‘young professionals’ next to them, you’re likely to find something. FutureNOW is of course an excellent forum for this, whether it’s the annual event or speed mentoring…but I would just say that mentors are all around you. Lots of folks I’d consider mentors of mine are mentors of different ‘sectors’ of my life. I get a lot of motivation to be creative from a friend of mine, my age, who works as a data engineer but is writing his first novel, for instance. Some of my other mentors are more experienced coworkers or even old bosses with whom I’ve maintained contact after moving on to the next gig. I think it’s important to not fall into the trap of thinking that a ‘mentor’ has to come in a certain package and be a certain age above your own. Find people who have some experience and perspective and the motivation to be interested in providing that perspective, even if it’s in a limited time.
When reaching out to a potential mentor, what should that first email or LinkedIn message say to best catch the person’s attention?
I think if you can convey that you are reaching out in an informational capacity, explain how you came to know who that person was, and couch it (sincerely) with the idea that you want to, for instance, ‘learn more about them and their professional journey thus far as I hope to enter this field or that company at this time,’ people will be surprisingly responsive. This works much better though if you have an ‘angle’ of knowing them either via a 2nd or 3rd party connection. And please please please take command of the scheduling and make it easy for them. They are doing their day-to-day job, living their day-to-day life with their family/friends/other loved ones, and you’re asking for a piece of their time, so make it easy and then make it count! And don’t get discouraged if they don’t answer, especially on LinkedIn. One follow-up suffices – usually after that doesn’t hit I move on.
What are the top 3 TO DO's on how to have a great mentoring experience?
Candidness – you don’t have to share your life story but being open about what you’re motivated by or worried about or dealing with helps your mentor better cater the experience for you.
Consistency – have goals, set them, and be methodical. Keep your meetings as regularly as possible and help them help you with strong organization.
Proactivity – clue us into what you’re looking at / reading / consuming in media that are relevant to you and excites you and spurs a strong point of view. What do you think? How do you want to affect whatever it is you’re interested in? What does success look like or an ideal creative output look like?
What are the top 3 DON’T DO's?
These are more or less the inverse of the Do’s 😉
Don't be demanding – there is a difference between being candid about what you aspire to do and expecting folks to drop everything or to stick their neck out and use ‘relationship capital’ for a half-baked ask.
Don't be inconsistent – not showing up when expected or otherwise wasting people’s time is something I as a mentor try very hard to avoid and my hope would be that whoever is approaching me for advice or an intro within my network would do me the same courtesy.
Don't expect your mentor to have all the answers – mentors aren’t vending machines, nor are they mind readers. Help us, help you. If you’re not motivated to seek things out, how are we supposed to be on your behalf?
How do I set goals, especially if I'm not sure what I want to do yet?
I had a really hard time with this myself – I’d say, take stock of what you’re passionate about, what aspect of culture you consume or thing you want to be involved with, as well as what you’re good at, and plot all of it on a piece of paper. See where the intersections might be! Also, I would say it’s ok if your first job is not your ‘forever home.’ Sometimes goals and motivations reveal themselves to you as you do things.