By Emma Gresser

Hi, friends! My name is Emma Gresser. I am going to give you a glimpse into a conversation between my good friend, PR rookie, and member of my personal board of directors, Andrew Cook. Andrew and I met when we moved to Chicago after graduating from undergrad. I was pursuing a MA in Public Relations and Advertising from DePaul University and Andrew was working at Edelman. Our paths first crossed on Twitter, and then through PRSA. One of the first conversations I had with Andrew was about the idea of a “personal board of directors” and little did I know one day, we would serve on each other’s boards.

I was recently featured on Washington Women in Public Relations’ website and talked about this idea being a priority throughout the last eight months. It sparked some conversations, so I thought I would set the record straight with Andrew:

What is a personal board of directors? A group of individuals, curated by you, that will give you perspective through the eyes of how they see your work and your passions come together.

Take a look at my conversation with Andrew around what you should look for while building you own personal board of directors:

Emma Gresser: How do you even begin to build a personal board of directors? Why should this matter to a professional at any stage of their career?

Andrew Cook: To me, what resonated the most was the basic criteria. When you are starting out, there are people who invest in your career and invest in you. Those are the people who become a part of your board. They’re the ones who are willing and able to provide you with an objective, 360 degree perspective of you as both a person and a professional and help you to fill in blind spots or see around corners as you consider the opportunities in your career. Ideally, you’re also able to give back and invest in their career and be on their board, so to speak, as well.

EG: It seems like people often go to their professional connections for career advice. I also think it’s important to have a personal perspective, too. Every major decision I’ve made, I consulted my Grandma who lives in Ohio and worked in the medical field throughout her career. We don’t have similar career paths but she knows where my heart is at. People like her and other close family and friends are a good gut-check.

AC: Totally, I think that’s a great way to approach those decisions. People on your board can come from personal or professional circles in your life. I think the board of directors helps provide a personalized perspective on professional decisions. There’s often a tendency for students or young professionals to “connect” with someone and try to “make” them a mentor before they even develop a relationship with that person. You can get all of the career advice you want from strangers, but I find that having people who know me often give me the best advice or maybe even just the support and confidence to move forward.

EG: Do you have a number of people you like to have on your board? I would guess my board reaches around 25 people, but it changes based on the circumstance. The conversations are prompted by a need just as much as they are a check-in. Like us for example: We don’t necessarily have a set time and date, but we reach out when we have a specific question or want to share an idea.

AC: My group is probably closer to 10 people, but that can fluctuate depending on what’s happening in my life or career. I think it’s important to consider, just like a regular board of directors, that you have a range in experience and perspectives. I’ve tried to surround myself with people who have similar values but are working in completely separate areas. I love comparing notes from different vantage points across the profession. If I had just all agency people or even just all PR people, that wouldn’t be great for my career. Diversity is just as important because you need diversity in perspective.

EG: It’s clear your board should be diverse, but how can you gather a focus? What will make this worth their time? Keep in mind that this commitment goes both ways. How can you reciprocate this kind of relationship? I always promise my board that I will pay it forward to the next generation of PR professionals.

AC: I think the composition of the board depends on what you need the board to do. It’s going to change throughout your career. What’s most important is: Who’s on your bench? Who are the people going to provide you with perspective and an authentic, honest conversation? It’s also a great backbone to have in case you ever need anything. Those are the people you turn to. Those relationships are both personal and professional. Have a personal relationship with them first and the professional will take care of itself. And I always want the relationship to be mutually beneficial and balanced, so it’s always important to try and “give more than you take” with each connection.

In summary, Andrew and I encourage you to take this idea and share it with your friends, colleagues, and even mentors. There are many workplace strategists and coaches who have suggested building a personal board of directors to even C-Suite executives. This approach will enable you to be the CEO of your own career.

Photo: Alejandro Escamilla

Emma Gresser is an External Communications Specialist at Fannie Mae. As a member of the Corporate Initiatives team, she communicates company efforts and thought leadership of its Management Committee. In Washington, DC, Emma is involved with the Washington Women in Public Relations, Junior League of Washington, and Jeté Society of The Washington Ballet. Emma built her career on the foundation of graduating from DePaul University’s Public Relations and Advertising MA program and the University of Cincinnati’s Communication BA program. She is passionate about building community and engaging with her own personal board of directors.
Andrew Cook is a member of Weber Shandwick’s Social Impact and Corporate teams in Seattle. He is a former president of Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). Upon graduating from Brigham Young University, Andrew launched his PR career as an assistant account executive at Edelman Chicago. While serving as PRSSA president, Andrew served on the board of advisers of the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations.