Mentorship – Your Career’s (not-so) Secret Weapon

Whether you’re looking for practical insights and wisdom, networking opportunities, strategies to enhance your personal development or even just a boost to your confidence in the workplace, mentorship offers immense rewards to those taking part – on both sides of the process.


At Tobacco Dock we have long extolled the virtues of mentorship. It plays an important role in maximising the potential of our team and a key part of our development and training programmes. We’ve also supported the Fast Forward 15 initiative for several years, a resource for women in the events industry, who are looking to tap into expertise and support from industry superstars outside of their organisations.

But what makes a mentorship relationship work? Who can benefit? Is it most valuable for those just starting out or looking for a change? Or is it a tool for all stages of your career? Who benefits most from the process? Might you?

To explore this, we spoke to three different people with recent and ongoing mentorship experience, from the perspective of both mentor and mentee, early career and more established. Jonathan Read, Tobacco Dock’s Co-Founder and Joint CEO, mentored Emma Walker of TBA as part of the Fast Forward 15 2022/2023 mentorship programme, while our Director of Business Development, Vicki Coleman, is in the middle of her own mentorship journey with Elevate, a mentorship programme focussed on the Events Industry.

Why did you do it?

For Jonathan Read, mentorship has had significance throughout his career and he felt ready to share those benefits with the next generation of Event Profs.

‘I wanted to put something back into the industry I have loved working in for over 30 years.

‘The last few years have been especially challenging with first the shutdown due to COVID, then having in many instances to learn a new set of skills for virtual events, followed by the stresses of a welcome but massive ramp-up in the return to in-person events, often against the background of event agencies struggling to recruit and on-board enough staff to handle their business wins. I hoped that my few decades of experience of dealing with other challenges, whether recessions, ash clouds, the tech wreck or other crises at the time, would give some perspective.’

From left to right, Jonathan Read, Tinique Hay and Emma Walker at the Fast Forward 15 Graduation event at Tobacco Dock.

Emma Walker, an early career events professional, was looking for a boost to propel her to the next stage in her work journey.

‘I was keen to get more involved in the wider events community and challenge myself to something new. Also, I was eager to learn from the experience and finally prioritise my goals with the help of a supportive mentor.’

She worked with Jonny throughout the year, meeting to set her goals and work on a strategy to achieve them, while working alongside the wider FF15 cohort on events of their own to underpin the mentorship learnings.

Vicki Coleman, approaching the mentorship from a successfully established point in her career, had more specific reasons and goals in mind. After a long period of multiple maternity leaves, she wanted to reignite her confidence and regain her working groove.

‘Coming back from a third maternity leave with a year of furlough thrown into the mix meant that my confidence to return to work was at a low point. While I had played an integral role in establishing Tobacco Dock as one of London’s leading events venues, setting up the entire sales process and team from scratch and building up a strong network of clients, agencies and suppliers, upon my return from each maternity leave, I was left feeling a little out of place and with a diminished network of contacts at my disposal.

‘Having acted as a mentor in the past, it felt a bit uncomfortable to be reaching out for external support. I wanted to regain my confidence, having been ‘out of the game’ for nearly 4 years. I was keen to learn from someone with Business Development experience, as this was a new role for me. (However, through my mentorship I’ve realised that my journey to this point in my career has all stemmed from my business development strength and my proactive approach. It seems I’ve found myself just where I need to be!)’

How was it for you?

Mentorship isn’t a one-way street. While it’s clear to see the advantages for mentees, we don’t always think about the benefits those on the other side of the experience can enjoy. It’s interesting to see that the experience has impacted Jonathan almost as much as Emma, with his work with his mentor reasserting the importance of objective-setting in his own life and career.

Vicki and her mentor, Charlie Hepburn, preferred to get outside to talk things through. Brighton Beach with a coffee was just the ticket!

‘Mentoring has been so rewarding,’ Jonathan says. ‘Ultimately the mentor is just providing support and advice based on personal experience but seeing a mentee gain in confidence and achieve their objectives is wonderful to witness.

‘Following the programme, I’ve found myself paying more attention to objective setting and my own wellbeing. I also re-connected with some industry leaders I had not been in touch with for many years and also met some amazing new contacts from corporates and agencies who have been very generous with their advice and time.’

For Vicki, the experience has been pivotal in reigniting her passion, building her confidence and reactivating her network. The process has given her the space to reset after this tricky transition period.

‘I felt really well-matched with my mentor who also has business development experience and is another working parent, so was immediately put at ease.’

She also noted the freedom she found in pursuing mentorship beyond the brick walls of Tobacco Dock.

‘I found chatting to someone outside of our business enabled me to ‘start again’ as there were no expectations of me. The conversation flowed and I realised that my knowledge gap wasn’t as great as I had feared. I felt like I could be a confident event professional once again and not ‘just’ a mum.

‘From my mentor’s point of view, I hope he got as much out of the process as I have. I know that he felt he benefitted from insights into how venues operate. Having been agency-side only, he found the experience useful in understanding a bit more about how we operate.’

As part of the Fast Forward 15 mentorship programme that Emma and Jonathan were involved with, the wider cohort came together to execute key challenges, such as speaking at Confex and organising a charity fundraising event. Finding the time to fit in the mentorship proved a challenge in itself. Emma’s expectations were exceeded, both in terms of what she would get out of the process, but also in terms of what she needed to put in.

Fast Forward 15 charity fashion event that Emma helped to organise

‘I was surprised at how much I actively took myself out of my comfort zone. Balancing a job alongside the mentorship was tricky as the charity event preparation required dedication with the added difficulty of fitting meetings in with everyone’s schedules.’

How did you go about it?

The structure of mentorships varies, but having a clear start and end point is key in helping to establish goals, create momentum and measure success. Keeping meetings regular, but with enough time to put things into action in between, means both parties get as much out of the process as possible. The Fast Forward 15 scheme also requires mentees to take part in both educational and industry events throughout the calendar to put their learnings into a practical forum. This could include sessions on pitching, speaking on a panel at the Meetings Show or CONFEX, and master classes in personal branding or social media techniques.

Vicki Coleman and her Elevate mentor, Charlie Hepburn atop Ditchling Beacon on one of their walk and talks

Vicki and her mentor preferred to get outside over the more formal setting of a desk.

‘Rather than sitting down and hashing it out, we found that walking was our preferred meeting format, which was a great contrast to the face-to-face Elevate networking events. Walking side by side felt less confrontational and encouraged openness. We walked along Brighton Beach and up Ditchling Beacon as well as meeting up at the regular Elevate events.’

What’s the difference?

It’s interesting to see that the experience has impacted Jonathan almost as much as Emma, with his work with his mentor reasserting the importance of objective setting in his own life and career. 

‘The programme was very rewarding on a mentor/mentee level but also I re-connected with some industry leaders I had not been in touch with for many years and also met some amazing new contacts from corporates and agencies who have been very generous with their advice and time. I also pay more attention to objective setting and my own wellbeing.’

One of the goals of Emma’s mentorship was to secure a job at a top events agency, and she succeeded by landing a role at TBA just a few months into the programme.

‘My mentorship experience shifted my focus and changed the way I work, especially as I’ve moved to an agency and been exposed to new, exciting projects. I have more confidence and an understanding of the wider industry and how it all fits together.’

For Vicki, the process has given her the boost she was looking for and has helped her to get stuck back into work at Tobacco Dock and to give her best to her new role.

‘It’s helped me get my work mojo back and realise that I’m still an integral part of Tobacco Dock with much to offer. I could see more clearly the value I have to the team and the venue. I feel more confident in my ability, and having someone to talk about it all outside of the organisation and the workshops and speakers that Elevate deliver at their events have really helped to transform that mindset.

‘On a more practical level, I am better at setting weekly goals. Business development can often end up in open ended tasks so it’s important for me to block out focus times in my calendar to be more productive. I’ve adapted the way I approach new prospects and regained my confidence in networking, as well as pushing myself to do things I wouldn’t usually do. For example, I’ve recently got on stage to speak at an industry event and judged awards – something I certainly would not have had the confidence to do before going through the mentorship.’

Timing is everything…?

We can all agree that mentorship is important, but is there a best time to make use of it?

Emma’s experience leads her to think it’s an opportunity most effective when undertaken early on.

‘No matter if you are starting out or further down the line in your career, a mentorship is crucial for development and appreciating new perspectives. I’d recommend starting a mentorship in the early stages of your career as it shapes and guides your path.’

Jonny broadly agrees:

‘I think everybody (if they want to be better) would benefit from mentorship at any stage of their career. Anyone can get ‘stuck’, whether they’re a recent graduate or someone who has been in the same role for a while and is looking for a change of direction or a different way of working, such as moving to freelancing.

‘That being said, the earlier in your career you have a mentor, the greater the benefit, as you can accelerate faster through intelligent goal setting, building a network or trusted advisors and industry leaders, and building up confidence.’

Perhaps unsurprisingly, as someone who has been both a mentor and a mentee at various stages in her career, Vicki extols the virtues of the process at any time.

‘I think it’s worth having a mentor at any time in your career – a sounding board outside of your day-to-day. Someone to be your personal cheerleader, championing you and rooting for you.’

Inevitably, as the demands you face change throughout the course of your career, there are times when mentorship can come in helpful for a variety of purposes, whether that’s for a return to the workplace following parenthood or illness, a shift in industry or role, or to help find the impetus for the next step up.

How to find the right programme?

If this article has whetted your mentorship appetite (it has mine!), consider what it is that you hope to get out of your experience before you begin the search for the right programme. This will help you land on the right path for you.

Have you been languishing in the same role for too long and wondering how to get the next rung up the ladder? Perhaps an in-house mentorship will help you develop your soft-skills or address the areas you need to improve for consideration for promotion.

Considering a change of direction? Probably best to find a mentor outside your organisation who can help you identify new opportunities and develop your goal-setting focus.

Whatever you decide, we hope you and your teams reap the benefits!