By John Wiltshire

There was once a time when mentorship was the norm. According to the Association for Talent Development (ATD), formerly the American Society for Training & Development, 75% of executives said that mentorship has been critical to their career development1.

Over the last several years though, companies have cut corporate mentorship programmes, and it’s getting harder for younger staff to find the time to meet and learn from more senior managers and executives. In another ATD survey, just 29% said their organization has a formal mentoring programme, while only 37% said they have an informal one2.

Why mentoring matters
While this may not seem like a big deal—you’re still interacting with more experienced employees and you’re learning on the job—studies show people with mentors achieve greater career success than those without. A report by the American Psychological Association found that those with mentors often earn higher performance evaluations, larger salaries and progress in their careers faster than non-mentored individuals3. According to The Hechinger Report, a Harvard Law School study found that women who had not made partner in their law firm had fewer mentors during their first five years than the women partners at their firm4.

This isn’t just a marketing issue, but there is certainly a lack of mentorship in our industry. Recently, I conducted a series of interviews on this topic and found that many chief marketing officers (CMOs) don’t have time to develop younger staff. In addition, many people in the industry are feeling less confident about the future of the profession, which makes it harder to get motivated to mentor. Plus, even if you’re lucky enough to find a mentor, there’s no guarantee that person will help in the way you want them to. In my experience, mentors, who are often bosses, come and go and while many of them want to help, only a few have the kind of high-quality leadership skills potential mentees need to learn to advance in their own careers.

Still, people need guidance, especially in today’s quickly changing world. One mistake people make when it comes to mentorship is thinking that meeting for coffee once every couple of months or being around to answer questions takes a large time commitment. But that isn’t necessarily true.

Another misstep is that we often equate mentorship with friendship. But even though you want to see your mentee succeed, you don’t have to meet every one of their needs. Here’s how one CMO I spoke to explained it: “I don’t need more friends,” she said. “What I need are some people across the marketing profession who pick up the phone when I call to ask them a question. I don’t really have that today.”

As well, I learned, you can’t just rely on your immediate bosses for mentorship. It helps to have a larger network of people to talk to, so you can get a range of advice.

CMA’s mentoring programme
If companies aren’t investing more time and money into mentorship opportunities, then it’s up to others to help make those connections: and to redefine what mentorship means. In January, our organization launched CMA Café presented by Mastercard, a programme that allows senior marketers to expand their networks and participate in round table events with CMOs, Chartered Marketers and members of the CMA community. So far, we’ve developed more than 25 sessions for small groups of six to 10 marketers, with leaders like the president of Loyalty One and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO)’s vice president of marketing and customer intelligence.

As our programme has proven, mentorship doesn’t need to involve regular meetings or one-on-one sessions. It’s more important to make connections with like-minded people in your industry and create the kind of relationship —with more than one person—where you feel comfortable sharing non-competitive information to help each other succeed.

As attendees at CMA Café presented by Mastercard have learned, mentorship must be a two-way street and it’s not just up to industry veterans to share their knowledge with younger professionals. We embrace reverse mentorship, where more experienced executives make themselves available to developing marketers to hear their perspectives and to learn new martech-related skills around things like customer experience, blockchain, social media and artificial intelligence (AI).

As much as the marketing industry is changing, having someone to learn from who can help you advance in your career is as important as ever. Yes, mentoring and networking takes time, but with job competition only increasing, and with new ideas and innovations being adopted at a rapid pace, it’s an investment that will pay dividends for mid-career marketers and veterans alike.

John Wiltshire is president and CEO of the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA) ( He is an accomplished senior executive with experience in marketing and product strategies.

1 Alyssa Rapp, “Be One, Get One: The Importance Of Mentorship”, Forbes CommunityVoice, October 2, 2018.
2 Association for Talent Development, “Mentoring Matters: Developing Talent With Formal Mentoring”, report, November 2017.
3 American Psychological Association, 2006 Presidential Task Force, Centering on Mentoring, “Introduction to Mentoring”, 2006.
4 Andre Perry, “Not enough students have mentors, and we must change that”, Hechinger Report, column, October 16, 2018.

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