There is no better way to tell the story of Philadelphia Public Relations Association’s Mentorship Program than through Ashley Berke and Sarah Fergus. Like many in the program discover, mentorship moves beyond professional guidance and into lasting friendship.
“It’s been incredibly rewarding to share advice, review her resume, and celebrate her many achievements over the years.”
Ashley Berke, PPRA Mentor
I wasn’t exactly sure what I could offer, but I knew I wanted to be involved. PPRA had just announced a new mentorship program for members. I enjoyed speaking to area college students and granting informational interviews to recent grads, so I thought the program might be a good fit. It was 2011, and I had worked in the industry for six years. Part of me thought I should be seeking a mentor rather than serving as one, but I decided to pursue the opportunity anyway.
To my delight, I was paired with Sarah Fergus. A quick review of her two years in the industry revealed that we had a lot in common. We both shared a passion for the arts. We both enjoyed working in the non-profit sector. And we both worked with partners in hospitality. It seemed like a perfect fit, and it was.
Ours was a unique mentoring situation from the start. I felt a bit guilty that Sarah was the only mentee paired with a mentor who had less than 15+ years experience in the industry. Would I be able to offer any meaningful advice? Was I preventing her from learning from someone with decades of knowledge to bestow? Thankfully it never seemed weird that we were matched.
We hit it off right away. Sarah and I met regularly to catch up on life and talk about our jobs and aspirations. Although I was technically the “mentor” in the relationship, I gained a lot from our discussions. Sarah was always full of energy and creativity, and she inspired me to look at my work in a new light. I hope that our frequent phone calls, happy hour meetings, and email exchanges were equally beneficial for her.
Since then, I’ve served as a reference for Sarah as she pursued new, exciting job opportunities (which she always landed because she’s a superstar). She even served as Public Relations Manager for the National Constitution Center – the job I held when we first were paired. It’s been incredibly rewarding to share advice, review her resume, and celebrate her many achievements over the years. It was particularly thrilling to nominate her for PPRA’s Fast-Track Award last year, which she won (no surprise). But above all, it’s been a pleasure to call Sarah a friend. I’ll be attending her wedding in October where I’ll be cheering her on again – this time as a friend of five years. It all started because of PPRA. And that’s one of the wonderful things about our organization. You never know how someone you meet at a program, or through the mentorship program, might impact your life in a really meaningful way.
Ashley Berke is Director of Communications for the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet), where she oversees media relations, marketing, publications, social media, and the website for the renowned school and its two hospitals. Ashley previously served as Director of Public Relations for the National Constitution Center. She graduated from Cornell University in 2005. You can connect with Ashley on LinkedIn here.
“Some of the best experiences I’ve had in my career thus far I can attribute to Ashley and to PPRA.”
Sarah Fergus, PPRA Mentee
When I speak to college classes about my experiences in PR, I urge students to find a mentor to lean on as they work to break into the industry. Which leads to an oft-asked question I receive in turn – “But, how do I find a mentor?”
In 2011, as a recent college grad trying to get my footing, I asked myself this same question rather frequently. I felt like I was navigating the beginning stages of my career somewhat blindly – there wasn’t exactly a manual that answered the litany of questions racing through my brain. I wanted to ask for advice, but I knew cold calling a seasoned pro with a “Hey, I need a mentor. Can you be my mentor?” probably wasn’t the best method. I could not, for the life of me, figure out a non-awkward way to broach this subject with people.
When the organization announced the return of its Mentorship Program, I signed up, not truly knowing what to expect but figuring I had to start somewhere. I knew I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, and, as it so happens, gain I did.
I still remember receiving the email from Ashley letting me know that we had been paired. She had an extremely impressive background, and I remember feeling very green and slightly intimidated. I was also quietly excited – if she could accomplish so much and only be a handful of years older than me, well then, she was a person I wanted to get to know.
I was pleasantly surprised to find how quickly we hit it off. Ashley was warm and down to earth in addition to being energetic and self-assured, particularly about her work – I felt those strong attributes start to rub off on me immediately. We met regularly over happy hours and coffees. She helped me navigate all of my questions, always answering my emails and calls despite her demanding schedule. She never patronized, lectured, or judged, and for that I am eternally grateful.
I’m not positive how long the mentorship program formally lasted, but five years later, I still consider her my greatest mentor, cheerleader, and close friend. With Ashley’s help, I took on new challenges and job opportunities – one even at the National Constitution Center, where Ashley was working when we first met. Last spring, Ashley nominated me for PPRA’s Fast-Track Award, and I was honored to accept it with her beside me.
Some of the best experiences I’ve had in my career thus far I can attribute to Ashley and to PPRA – so, if you’re feeling unsure about the idea of signing up for the Mentorship Program, know that it a) does indeed work and b) may just change your life.
And Ashley, if you’re reading this, thank you.
Sarah Fergus is Manager of Marketing Communications for the Philadelphia Flyers, where she oversees all publicity and messaging for the team’s off-ice and business initiatives. She has previously worked in public relations and marketing roles for the National Constitution Center and the University of Pennsylvania. She graduated from Temple University in 2010. You can connect with Sarah on LinkedIn here.