Several mentors helped me on the journey from a high school student to an Atlanta public relations media supervisor. Two of these special people to me have an Olympic connection.
The following paragraphs include first names only because, unfortunately, some big gaps of time lapsed since the most recent contact with these mentors (committing here to get back in touch!).
The first professional mentor who accidentally earned that title is Leslie.
During the year building up to U.S. Olympic Festival '89 -- the Oklahoma City sports event where "it all started" (my hard core enthusiasm for the Olympics, that is) -- Leslie was the public relations director for the Festival organizing committee.
On my first day as a summer volunteer (at age 15, in 1988), Leslie assigned me some phone bank research and, I think, a media list project. Mundane, yes, but Leslie took the time to explain the importance of getting the facts and figures right, for the public (fellow volunteers and potential ticket buyers) and for reporters. She put the project into the context of shaping opinion about the Festival, and that made everything (including spell check by hand from a phone book) more important and interesting.
Several office projects later, Leslie got me working at one of the Festival's P.R. events. Seeing how it all came together -- the details, the food, the fancy business clothes, the media interest -- introduced me to P.R. She encouraged me, taught me, answered all the silly questions. My ego was boosted by some "Nick P.R." the committee embarked on for a volunteer contribution at the end of the summer. I was drunk on publicity and how it worked!
When school finally ended in the spring of 1989, I could hardly wait to get back to volunteering, and Leslie was there teaching how the media could be engaged on several fronts:
- Media stunts (100 volunteers parked Oklahoma-made GM cars in the shape of the OK89 logo for a photo opportunity)
- Media events (the statewide Olympic Torch Relay)
- Dedication ceremonies (the unveiling of a downtown Oklahoma City Olympic-themed statue)
These topics and pitching Festival "story angles" and "media relations" all entered my lexicon thanks to Leslie, who was the main organizing committee P.R. contact who worked with the U.S. Olympic Committee during the actual Festival (seeing the U.S.O.C.'s media operations for the Festival was eye-opening, to be sure -- especially in the pre-Fax, pre-Internet days!).
Leslie went on to work for a global energy company before starting a family, and she was an outstanding touchstone as my college degree du jour evolved from psychology to international relations and finally mass communications at Minnesota State University-Mankato (in those days, MSU stood only for Mankato State U. -- Sarah Palin would love it there, as the mascot was very Mavericky!). Though not often enough, I think of all the time Leslie took to care and listen. Hooray for my professional mentor, Leslie!
A shout out to another mentor of the U.S. Olympic Festival '89 experience: Mr. Clay Bennett! He certainly helped Oklahoma to fulfill the Festival's motto "Winning a Place in the World." (I will write more about Bennett in a separate, future post).
Another mentor in my life entered the scene in 1993, but neither of us knew she was destined for mentor status until the summer of 1994 at the U.S. Olympic Festival of St. Louis. Margaret was an executive on loan to the Festival organizing committee (I later learned she served many years as one of Monsanto's top female executives at a time when there were few to zero women above the glass ceiling).
Margaret was tough, but not one to take no for an answer. In our 15 x 20 office shared at the Washington University in St. Louis Olin Business School (built adjacent to the 1904 St. Louis Olympic venues), Margaret masterminded the best U.S. Olympic Festival Athlete Village in the history of the USOF.
When unexpected challenges came along, she found a solution, or taught our team how. She was outstanding at managing tons of data, hundreds of people (and their vast personality differences) and making things work. And she kept everything upbeat and low key, never letting anyone see her sweat (though there were plenty of times we were all up late sweating to get the Village ready).
After the Festival, Margaret was the touchstone of my later college and early career milestones, from landing two internships (the first with the U.S.O.C. intern program, the second at the Fleishman-Hillard home office), to a first-time full-time job with the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. She also taught the importance of community involvement as her own career evolved into leading a nonprofit organization in St. Louis.
My thanks go out to Leslie and Margaret, and many other mentors who helped along the way.