Emily Barr And Hank Price: How Mentoring Made Us
Emily Barr: Hank, going back to the beginning of our mentorship story, I was a news editor at KSTP in the Twin Cities and you were a consultant for Magid. The news promo producer had been promoted to promotion manager and needed to replace herself. With absolutely no experience, I applied for the job and to my surprise, landed it after the top candidate turned it down. Before I was actually offered the position, I was asked to meet with you. I distinctly remember your three-piece suit as I was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt when we met. To this day, I am shocked I was given the opportunity.
Hank Price: Emily, during the early 1980s, one of my jobs at Magid was overseeing the marketing department at KSTP. One day, Jeanne Kosek, KSTP’s promotion manager, called and asked me to meet a tape editor in the news department who had applied for an open producer position. She was a recent college graduate and Jeanne liked her. It was you.
On my next trip to the station, Jeanne asked you to come up to her office for an interview. You said you were sorry, but you were on a deadline and had to finish your work first. I liked that answer, so I said to Jeanne, “Let’s go down to the news department and interview her there.”
You and I had an immediate connection. You were smart, outgoing with a big smile, professionally oriented, a good writer and not intimidated by a consultant; all things I value in a person, so I immediately signed off on hiring you.
Emily Barr: You were the first person in that newsroom who did not refer to me as “the intern.” You treated me like an adult and made me feel like I truly had something to offer even though I knew next to nothing about writing promos. I ran every piece of copy by you and when you did not like a script or idea, you carefully redirected me with humor and compassion. You made me feel like I could do anything.
Hank Price: You turned out to be the real deal. You were clearly going places and wanted to learn everything possible. You could also be a bit of a smart ass, which I’ve been known to be, so our connection grew. You were never afraid to say what you really thought.
My natural style is to coach, which fit well with your style of being friendly, frank and driven, so we were an instinctive fit. The relationship naturally progressed from there.
Emily Barr: When I left KSTP for D.C., you were instrumental in my getting that next opportunity. You gave me a reference and encouraged me to lean into the new role even when I was not all that thrilled with my new boss. Six months after my arrival, the promo manager then left to take a job across the street and lo and behold, you threw your hat into the ring.
I lobbied station management to hire you and we found ourselves working together again a short while later. A year later, you went across the street to WUSA and then I left for Houston (in part because of your positive reference) and my first management job. I considered you to be my guardian angel and since you don’t know when the next one will come along, I maintained that relationship like it was gold.
Hank Price: Your second job was as a producer at WJLA in Washington. I remember you called one day and said, “My boss just resigned, and I know you want to get off the road. You should apply.” I did, and for the first time we were working together in the same office. My wife and our kids got to know you and we later all went to your wedding, so there was also a family element. Since then, we’ve remained strong friends. We don’t talk every week, but every time we do talk it’s like picking up a conversation in progress.
Emily Barr: In all these years, I’ve never lost faith in the value of this relationship. But I will admit that once when we were colleagues in D.C., you invited me over for dinner with your family. You insisted that I learn how to change my own oil and spark plugs, which we did in your driveway. The car coughed and sputtered, and it wound up costing me a pretty penny to get it fixed, so I guess you could say I doubted your Mr. Fix-it capabilities! I would also add that when we later found ourselves as rival general managers in Chicago (you at WBBM and me at WLS), I knew we had to limit our friendship for the sake of our respective roles. Needless to say, we remained cordial but distant in that period.
Hank Price: Yes, there was a time when we didn’t feel it would be appropriate to talk because we were running rival stations in Chicago, but the relationship was always there.
Emily Barr: Over the years, our mentor/mentee relationship has paid off so many times, but there’s one specific when I arrived in Baltimore [WMAR] to take on the role of broadcast operations and programming, I recall you calling me and instructing me to grab a piece of paper and a pen. You told me you were going to tell me everything I needed to know about syndication and programming because understood so little then. I wrote it all down and consulted that paper regularly for about six months when I realized I finally understood it. That was an incredibly gracious gesture that truly helped me adjust to a big new role.
Hank Price: As far as paying off, this may sound corny, but it has been very satisfying to watch from the sidelines as you developed you full leadership potential, influencing many others for good along the way. One of you great strengths is that in some ways you are that same person I met in an edit booth 40 years ago.
Emily Barr: Thinking over all that time and the best advice you’ve given me, I’ve admired that you are a very ethical individual and always told the truth, even if it was hard for the other person to hear. While we have rarely agreed on politics, you have always advised me to be the very best version of myself and to not worry about what others might think.
I deeply respect your values and perspective and have always tried to follow your example. You taught me to credit others and allow the credit to come back to me rather than seeking it out — that took time to sink in but was by far the best advice you could impart.
Hank Price: Emily, I’d have to say your own best advice to me was to apply for the job at WJLA. I took that advice, and it changed my career course.
Emily Barr: As will happen, our roles have sometimes reversed over the years. I recall having dinner with you when I was a GM in Chicago and you had left for Hearst. You were back in town teaching at Northwestern, and I remember you asking me for advice and thinking it was so weird but lovely that we had reached that point. I also believe I bought dinner that night, which definitely made me feel like a grown-up!
Hank Price: At some point long ago, our relationship, at least in my mind, moved from mentor/mentee to colleague and friend. It was clear to me from the beginning that you were destined for great things, though I had no idea what.
When you headed Graham, you collected experiences I hadn’t, so that was a role reversal. You have been a great resource to me on policy, network relations and other industry issues, all of which we both have strong opinions on.
Emily Barr: You know Hank, when younger people in this industry are looking for a mentor today, I think they need to look around their workplace or within the industry and see whose work and style they admire. If you are able to connect, I’d ask them how they were able to succeed and see if you can get a conversation going that could well lead to an ongoing relationship. Both individuals need to see value in the relationship for it to blossom.
Hank Price: I’d add they need to meet as many people as possible who are successful in the kind of job they aspire to. Call them up and ask for a short meeting to seek their professional advice. Do this until you find someone who seems genuinely interested in your career.
Once you find a potential mentor, build the relationship slowly. Send a note of thanks recapping what you learned from the meeting. Ask if you can call on the person for advice from time to time. After an appropriate interval, ask for another meeting to report how you have used the person’s advice, and you are off and running.
Never forget that you are building a professional relationship, so don’t be overbearing. Don’t ask for too much time and never ask for a job.
Emily Barr: Hank, reflecting on our relationship there are times when I wish our actual time working together in Minneapolis and D.C. lasted longer, but I cherish the time we did have together and know it had a profound influence on me personally and professionally. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Hank Price: I’d love to say you and I planned all this, but God puts people in your life for a reason. I’m sure there are things I could have done differently along the way, but the fact is I cherish our relationship.
Emily Barr is the former president and CEO of Graham Media Group.
Hank Price is a media consultant. In a 30-year general management career, he led TV stations for Hearst, CBS and Gannett. Price also spent 15 years as senior director of Northwestern University’s Media Management Center. He is currently director of leadership development for the School of Journalism and New Media at Ole Miss.