Leadership Lessons From Mission North’s Inaugural Sponsorship Participant – Alexis-Brianna Felix

In 2022, Mission North announced the creation of our agency’s Sponsorship program, an initiative designed to accelerate the careers of high-achieving emerging leaders, especially from historically underrepresented backgrounds. As part of our broader Foster the Future initiative to make the PR industry more inclusive, this program focuses on helping mid-career employees make the leap to leadership by demystifying what it takes to lead an agency at the highest level. 

I was fortunate enough to become the inaugural participant in this program in September 2022, and recently wrapped up 15 months filled with invaluable life and leadership lessons that I’ll take with me throughout the rest of my career. It’s hard to sum up all the wisdom I soaked up over the course of the program, but here are some of my biggest takeaways. 

Embrace Experimentation

Since I was the very first person to go through this program, my sponsors — our Co-CEOs Bill Bourdon and Tyler Perry, and President Nicole Messier — and I were building the plane as we flew it. Though we had a sense of the areas we wanted to cover, we co-created my curriculum each quarter based on the topics and skills I was most curious about. It was an opportunity to get all my questions answered, and to learn which questions I hadn’t thought to ask yet. 

The core program included one-on-one learning sessions on business fundamentals, new business, senior-level networking, product development and strategic decision-making. My sponsors were incredibly generous with their time and insights, and often pulled in case studies and other experts – like Corporate practice lead, Nick Maschari, and our Head of People, Gillian Davis – to deepen my understanding of topics. We met together every three months to reflect and plan the next quarter. 

Leaving room for experimentation, curiosity, and two-way feedback made the process feel dynamic and tailored to my unique interests and needs.

<split-lines>"Leaving room for experimentation, curiosity, and two-way feedback made the process feel dynamic and tailored to my unique interests and needs."<split-lines>

Give Professional Development the Same Energy as Client Work

Agency life is always busy as we balance the needs of multiple clients at the same time. While the pace and variety of the work is energizing, it can sometimes be difficult to carve out enough time for thoughtful professional development between deadlines. 

To ensure I had the flexibility to continue delivering great client service while completing the Sponsorship program, we allocated a bigger share of my work hours each month to non-billable agency work. This adjustment allowed me to think of my sponsorship projects as another client, giving me the space to learn and strengthen my leadership skills. Client work, of course, still comes first, so I could adjust our sponsorship project deadlines as needed.  

By being intentional about investing more of my time into professional development, I was able to put my new skills into practice in ways that benefited both clients and the broader agency.

<split-lines>"By...investing more of my time into professional development, I was able to put my new skills into practice in ways that benefited both clients and the broader agency."<split-lines>

Curiosity and Confidence Go Hand-in-Hand

One of my favorite Sponsorship projects was the chance to co-produce Mission North’s first in-person Communications Turning Point event in San Francisco. We invited chief communications officers and other senior comms leaders at major tech companies and venture capital firms to an off-the-record dinner discussion co-moderated by Axios Communicators’ Eleanor Hawkins. I was excited to help put the event together, and thrilled at the chance to be “in the room” for insightful conversations about the challenges and opportunities facing comms leaders in our industry.

I was also pretty nervous! This was an opportunity to put the networking skills I learned into practice, but I was concerned about my place as the “most junior person in the room.” Tyler calmed my nerves by reminding me that I bring valuable expertise of my own to the table, and recommending that I view my position as a license to ask more questions. One tidbit from this pre-event pep talk that stuck with me: “Be interested, not just interesting.” 

As a result of my Sponsorship experience, I was able to more confidently engage with top leaders in our field by leaning into my curiosity and banishing any feelings of imposter syndrome.

<split-lines>"I was able to more confidently engage with top leaders in our field by leaning into my curiosity and banishing any feelings of imposter syndrome."<split-lines>

Seek Out External Perspectives

Working closely with my sponsors was invaluable, but a mid-program pilot of an external mentorship component took my experience to another level. I was lucky enough to first be paired with Fenot Tekle, VP and Global Head of Communications at our client Canva, and later with powerhouse VC communications and marketing pro Carol Wentworth, formerly at Threshold Ventures and now running Wenty Consulting.

I met with each of these external mentors biweekly to discuss broader industry topics I was interested in beyond the agency world. I also got real-time guidance on challenges I was facing in my day-to-day work. Both leaders regularly dropped gems of wisdom that have shaped my approach both to my career and my personal life.

Fenot’s perspective as an agency client was particularly insightful. I’ve spent my whole career on the agency side, so Fenot’s view was a reminder that agency partners must have a deep understanding of the in-house challenges our day-to-day contacts are navigating in their own roles to provide the best service possible. As she put it: “You have to be a businessperson first, then a marketer, then a comms pro.” Fenot was also a crucial sounding board for questions on what leadership looks and feels like for Black women in our industry, and for tips on cultivating a new generation of leaders from underrepresented backgrounds. She pushed me to be more self-reflective and consider what I truly want to be known for both in my professional and personal lives. 

Carol’s deep experience across the tech industry was equally helpful. I turned to her for advice on handling tough conversations with tact, and on adjusting the “pie chart of your life” as personal and professional goals evolve over time. Carol quickly picked up on my tendency to over commit and constantly try to “do all the things.” To combat those habits, she introduced me to a book I have since recommended to dozens of people: “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. Carol showed me the value of doing “less, but better,” and I’ve made that mantra a guiding principle for evaluating every opportunity that comes my way. 

Final Thoughts

My time as Mission North’s first Sponsorship program participant was the most exciting and challenging period in my career thus far. I am grateful to my sponsors, mentors and others who dedicated time and energy to help me grow both as a professional and as a person.

As our 2024 Sponsorship participant, Clarissa Marzán, embarks on her own year of growth, I am hopeful that other agencies will adopt Mission North’s model to inspire and nurture emerging leaders within their own ranks.

If you’d like to get involved with Foster The Future, check out our website and reach out with questions.

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