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Who’s the ONE mentor that changed your PR career trajectory?


Everyone has that one person who changed the trajectory of his/her career.

That person who, for whatever reason, made a difference in your professional life.

That person, who really stands out, as THE person who really supported you, through thick or thin.

For me, that person was Deborah Ely-Lawrence.


Fourth of July corn (7.4.11)

The year was 2002 and I was applying for a communications specialist role with an accounting and consulting firm (no–the firm wasn’t based in a corn field–see above–I just liked this pic of Deborah!). It wasn’t the sexiest job in the world, but it sounded like their might be growth potential, it sounded interesting, and it paid the bills at the time.

They ended up liking me–and I liked them. So, I took the job.

During my five years at McGladrey, I grew from specialist to manager. I had the opportunity to lead and manage one of the bigger marketing projects at McGladrey during my time there. I had the opportunity to manage an agency relationship for the first time. I had the opportunity to do real PR work for the first time. I got more involved in PRSA. I got my APR. And so many other things.

It was, other than starting my own business, the single biggest growth curve in my career.

And I owe a lot of that to Deborah.

As my boss for most of my time at McGladrey, she was a great sounding board. She was a great listener–but also provided direction when I needed it. And, she guided me just enough to point me in the right direction, but not too much as to get in my way.

But most of all, she was my greatest supporter.

Up until that point in my professional career, I really hadn’t had anyone who really believed in me and pushed me to be a better consultant. For whatever reason, Deborah was that person for me. She encouraged me to join PRSA (which wound up to be a HUGE move for me). She gave me numerous opportunities to lead key projects. And she just kept supporting me with positive feedback all along the way.

I’m quite sure Deborah didn’t realize at the time the impact she had on me–but I remember.

I remember well.

And it was critical to my development as a counselor and professional.

So for that, Ms. Ely-Lawrence, I thank you. Without question,  you changed the path of my career.

Since everyone has a “Deborah”, I thought I’d ask some friends who that mentor was in their life. Here’s what they had to say:

Missy Berggren, director, WCG


I met John Dailey when I first graduated and was the new kid on the block at Hazelden’s Youth Center. He was a trusted external marketing consultant for the team and quickly took me under his wing when I showed how hungry I was to learn and do a great job. Like all great mentors, John helped me advance my skill level by shadowing him and indulging my 1,000,000 questions. And he helped me understand and adjust to the corporate (albeit nonprofit) environment, which was a bit daunting right out of school. I learned so much from John — probably the best thing he taught me was how to write healthcare copy for patient audiences that is both understandable and respectful to their individual health needs, especially for sensitive topics such as mental health and addiction. I’m very grateful for John’s time and teachings, I still remember many of the lessons he taught me today, 15 years later.


Molly Snyder, group manager-PR, Target

Molly S

Throughout my career, as I look back at each of my leaders and mentors, something stands about each of them. Sometimes it’s as simple as something they said to me that stuck. And other times it’s been their broader leadership approach.

But one person that really stands out is a man named Brian Williams. I worked with him twice in my career, first when he was the President of FCB Chicago and then a few years later when he brought me on board as director of communication to help open a new agency in Chicago. It was early in my career, but I learned from him how I wanted to lead. He was a great, classic leader — smart, strategic and strong. And he was also an equally great person with a ton of integrity. He worked to surround himself with people who knew their stuff and were also solid, smart, decent people.

What I learned from him was that, for me personally, it was going to be equally important to be known for both the work I do as well as for how I work with the people around me. To this day, I consider myself successful if people can say “Molly is really good at what she does and I really respect and like working with her.”


Heather Cmiel, director, Bellmont Partners


I have a pretty wild career ride which really isn’t due in part to one singular person —there isn’t enough room here to list all the people who have impacted me. From having been inspired by amazing leaders (like Paul Maccabee and Dave Mona) and having an amazing support system in my corner (Gail Van Cleaf, Gabby Nelson and Kelly Groehler) to crossing paths at various employers with many brilliant people (Jill Lewis, Rachel Camann, Sara Keeney, Katie Fitzpatrick) and landing at an amazing company who supports me professionally and personally (the awesome Bellmont Partners team), I am without a doubt thankful for all the people in my life.

But since I have to pick one person, it would be my dad, Craig Schwartz. He is incredibly inspirational because he has shown me throughout his career path that you can be a leader who inspires, engages and creates change without needing to compromise or change who you are in the process. He has taught me the value of taking a calculated risk and been a shoulder to cry on when all the belief in myself was gone. But perhaps the most important contribution he has made is holding up the mirror and showing me when I am wrong or being an idiot and why. Not an easy thing to hear but an invaluable lesson to learn that has helped me grow. 


Kevin Watterson, account manager, aimClear

Kevin W

Every opportunity for advancement in my career came to me because of my writing ability, so the most influential person on my trajectory is Mr. Bradfield, my high school English teacher. His classes transformed my writing from staid book reports into a true expression of thought and purpose. He prescribed students a simple formula – write with a point, make it – that served me well through years of writing op-eds, letters and all sorts of formats in politics and now B2B public relations. Without the impression he made for how writing can be an extension of thinking, chances are I don’t gravitate toward mass communications in college, don’t latch on in politics and don’t discover the rest of the skills that I use every day. I can’t think of anything more significant and influential than that. 

Katie Miller, account supervisor, OLSON


The person who has influenced my career trajectory the most is Kamari Guthrie. She was one of my peers while working in NYC and taught me so much. While working alongside Kamari, she taught me not only in her words but also in her actions. In a career that is driven by ideas, creativity and personal experiences, Kamari taught me how to stand up for my thoughts and how to push emotion aside if I received negative feedback. She showed me the importance of finding what I was passionate about and letting that shine through in my work. Kamari inspired me to want to mentor and guide others. Her kindness, energy and belief in me is something I want to share with others in my field. 

Karl Pearson-Cater, director-digital content strategy, MSP Communications


There are so many people who have influenced my career path — it’s a very intriguing question to have to answer. I should really create a list of these people and then throw a party for them all! But the *one* person who has influenced my career trajectory the most would have to be Douglas Snow. 

Doug hired me at City Pages back in 1995 when the paper was going though a huge growth period and I was fresh out of college. I was a graphic designer and my coworkers and I were an important piece of the pre-press publishing puzzle, but we were the LAST piece in the assembly line. 

Doug taught me many things and had an extremely animated way of teaching us how things “worked” — he went out of his way to make sure we all new the “why” and not just the “how”. One example was when display ad reps would turn in ad changes late or ask for a complete redesign ON DEADLINE — IDIOTS — THEY SUCK — WE’RE GOING TO PUSH BACK — OTHERWISE THEY WILL DO IT OVER AND OVER AGAIN! We’d get in trouble for being mad about it and the Sales Director would kick Doug’s ass because of us. Doug said, “Just because you’re right, doesn’t mean it solves the problem. It’s kind of like you’re going through a green traffic light, and a cement truck is speeding trough their red light. If you don’t do something you’ll be ‘right’, BUT YOU’LL BE DEAD.”

Metaphors like that are common with Doug, but he backs them up with strategy. His point was to eliminate the problem rather than deal with the specific incident over and over. Could we find workflow efficiencies to promote BEFORE deadline to avoid the cement truck at the intersection all together? Of course there were. Doug showed me that if he taught his staff to understand the full process that we could actually change things we thought we couldn’t control. That’s powerful. I try to do this every day with my coworkers.

Teaching a team the “why” takes longer to implement, but it’s a stronger solution in the long run. I am now going to compile a list of Doug Snow Metaphors because they’re worth capturing and there are many. 



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