While the coronavirus pandemic has clearly had a stalling effect on the marketing industry, the global lockdown of home quarantine has had one unexpected benefit for rising talent in the field: a surging interest in one-on-one mentorship and networking.
Fueled both by the exponential growth in daily usage of video chat platforms like Zoom and the economic uncertainty of advertising’s worldwide slowdown, virtual networking has quickly become one of few sources of optimism for workers as they face an unprecedented moment in their careers. In short, employees—and those now seeking job opportunities—suddenly find themselves with a mix of free time, professional anxiety and relative privacy to have candid conversations out loud. Networking and mentorship offer a much-needed way to put that combination to good use.
“We suddenly have many more hours to fill during the day. Our instinct may be to spend all that downtime refreshing Twitter or reading COVID-19 updates, but that’s neither healthy nor a good use of time,” said Sai He, a freelance creative. “Networking and mentorship are ways to commiserate with other ad people who truly get it and can offer a different point of view than that of our families and nonindustry friends.”
In recent years, He has built a large network of emerging talent through his Dong Draper persona on Twitter and Instagram, and he’s often used his platform to help amplify work and requests for help from his followers. As COVID-19 quarantine measures began, He launched a seemingly simple project called “(Net)working From Home” through which he offered to play professional matchmaker, connecting strangers across the ad industry. The response was quite literally overwhelming.
“I thought I’d be pairing a couple hundred people at most,” he said. “In less than a day, over 1,300 people from over 50 countries signed up before I had to close submissions. Even so, I’m still receiving daily DM requests asking to join.”
A similar effort by networking app Fellow, which connects women in advertising for mentorship opportunities, also saw tremendous demand. App creator Aisha Hakim, a senior art director at agency Venables Bell & Partners, created a spreadsheet for creatives to share their portfolios so that industry veterans could review them virtually.
“We’ve had over 350 submissions,” Hakim said. “I knew this was an issue, but that number blew me away.”
Hakim said these kinds of projects are likely popular because they offer ways to feel professionally productive in a cultural moment that otherwise feels disorienting and daunting.
“I think people are just feeling extra isolated in all this uncertainty,” she said. “Suddenly we have some extra time in the day but less human interaction, and I think it softens everyone.”
Adweek itself has attempted to help create more opportunities for remote workers to connect with mentors or mentees. In addition to the Adweek Executive Mentor Program, now in its second year, the magazine also responded to the COVID-19 quarantine by offering 15-minute mentorships that connected industry veterans and emerging talents for one-on-one video chats. More than 200 participants signed up in one day.
In lieu of an April Fools’ Day prank, Adweek surprised several entry-level ad talents by connecting them for uplifting video conversations with industry VIPs, including DDB Worldwide CEO Wendy Clark, VaynerMedia CEO Gary Vaynerchuk, Burger King global CMO Fernando Machado, equality advocate Cindy Gallop and “Old Spice guy” actor Isaiah Mustafa.
Consistently, the executives who participated in these networking and mentorship initiatives have said they find the sessions just as valuable as do the rising talent being mentored.
John January, co-CEO of Kansas City agency Signal Theory, took part in one of Adweek’s 15-Minute Mentorships and said the experience of talking one-on-one with a younger talent was tremendously positive.
“A time like this provides a keen perspective on one’s real priorities,” January said. “I think mentoring, connecting and giving back are all pretty high on a lot of people’s lists.”