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CEO Thought Leadership Series from Trade Show

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The Big Apple Awards: Mike Fernandez on mentoring the next generation of PR pros

Mike Fernandez, CEO of Burson-Marsteller and this year’s winner of the PRSA-NY Philip Dorf Award spoke with Doug Simon, CEO of D S Simon Media after The Big Apple Awards ceremony. Mike shared his two key lessons for mentors and mentees. He emphasized the importance of critical thinking and asking the right questions as well as giving back to others.

Mike Fernandez has mentored two dozen CCOs and CMOs of major corporations. He shared themes from his acceptance speech.

“It’s only by giving back, it’s only by being other focused that you truly succeed.” – Mike Fernandez



DOUG SIMON: I’m Doug Simon from D S Simon Media, here with Mike Fernandez, CEO of Burson-Marsteller, who was just honored at the Big Apple Awards with the Philip Dorf Award. Congratulations.

MIKE FERNANDEZ: Thank you, Doug.

DOUG SIMON: Great. Now in your very moving speech, you shared two key lessons. I think it would be great for you to share those with our audience now.

MIKE FERNANDEZ: Yeah, and they’re two lessons for mentees, really. And one of them is question, and the second one is about others. And that is, if you’re going to go into this profession, first and most, you need to be focused on asking good questions, probing questions, to solve real problems.

I went to a Jesuit college in Georgetown. And the Jesuits used to say, the questions are more important than the answers. I originally thought that was because they were the ones asking the question. But the reality is, is that we only advance our kind by asking questions and challenging the status quo. That’s true in science. That’s true in business. It’s true in PR.

DOUG SIMON: Now that might also mean it’s important to ask questions of yourself and look at yourself with a critical eye.

MIKE FERNANDEZ: Absolutely. And that was the other point that I made. Bill Marsteller had written a book early in his career that really reflected on this point that, as an individual, if you’re going to truly be creative, then you have to challenge yourself. And I think that that’s a very important point.

DOUG SIMON: Now the key second lesson was about helping others and having that focus just part of your fiber of your being, if you’re going to be a good mentee or mentor, for that matter.

MIKE FERNANDEZ: That’s right. And I think the real challenge there is so many people who are wanting to be mentored, they approach you with the idea that it’s about them. And in part, it is about them. But it’s about them in either a larger world or within an agency or within a company. And it’s only by giving back– it’s only by being other-focused– that you truly succeed.

DOUG SIMON: I agree with that. And that’s awesome advice, tremendously well received. Congratulations for a well-deserved honor.

MIKE FERNANDEZ: Thank you, Doug.