Meet the Mentors: Kat Saoyen & Rajiv Lahens
By Alixandra Rutnik on Jan 06, 2021
Mentor & Creative shakes things up with 160over90
Not only is Mentor & Creative a perfect opportunity for ad students and recent graduates, but also it is a great opportunity for our One Club corporate members to get involved in mentoring rising stars. The winter session is coming up with the deadline to apply by January 22, 2021.
We’ve interviewed a handful of students who have participated in this program, Yashashree Samant, Palak Kapadia & Nicole Gausman, and Monica Andrade, but now it is time to get a fresh perspective– Mentor & Creative through the eyes of the mentors.
We talked to Kat Saoyen and Rajiv Lahens, two Creative Directors from 160over90 who headed their group for the The One Club’s Mentor & Creative fall session. They both had very positive things to say about the six-week mentorship experience.
First up, how has this crazy year been treating you guys, personally and professionally?
Kat: There are a lot of contrasts happening this year. I miss going to the office and seeing my work family, but at the same time, shaking up that routine has actually been really good for my creativity. I appreciate the extra time I’ve spent with my kid, but also struggle with juggling work and parental duties. Shoutout to all the working parents – I see you! 160over90 has been flexible and agile through it all, which is surprising for a large agency. Working remotely eliminated the need for projects to stay within the walls of a single location and has allowed us to work with colleagues all across the country.
"I miss going to the office and seeing my work family, but at the same time, shaking up that routine has actually been really good for my creativity."
Rajiv: This year has really tested the theory of "team". We've experienced a lot of cultural changes as an agency, but I'm fortunate to be surrounded by a core group of incredible humans. We've experienced ups and downs, but we're truly like a family. We do our best to keep morale and spirits high, even if that just means a phone call.
What made 160over90 want to get involved in our Mentor & Creative program?
Kat: Our office did previously have an internship program. Getting involved with The One Club felt like a natural next-step in cultivating rising and diverse talent.
Rajiv: We had to first take a step back and look at ourselves as an agency. We aim to be truly diverse, but we've got a ways to go, so I think that realization was the first step. But much more than that, our industry as a whole needs to do a better job of nurturing talent from all backgrounds.
Advertising can feel like a cult from the outside in– now imagine being a non-white candidate. It can be intimidating. I'm a more senior creative now, but I often felt lost because of that lack of mentorship. This is my way of being for the mentees what I never really had coming up in the game. A life hack and a mirror if you will. We're in the infancy stages of developing a robust internship program, but look out for that in 2021.
You two tag-teamed as 160over90 mentors for our fall program. Have you ever been a lead mentor for students before?
Kat: I have led mentorship efforts before, but this time was probably the best. It met my expectations of what a mentorship program should be. Everyone was fully bought in to the process and we ended the program feeling like we completed everything we set out to do. The students were so engaged and prepared. They really blew us away with their professionalism.
Rajiv: I haven’t led an organized program like this, but mentorship is extremely important to me. I make it a point to take a few high potential, on-the-up talent under my wing every year and really invest in their future. No one ever tells you as a junior, but leadership is really about showing up everyday, fully as yourself. Once I realized I could lead in a way that was true to me, my personality and personal experiences, everything changed for me. It made leadership enjoyable and gratifying. I try not to create too much expectation with this type of thing, and with the layer of working remote on top of that I tried to be as open as possible. The format, the enthusiasm and the talent blew me out of the water. I would say that the success of our six weeks far exceeded what I anticipated going into it.
How did you see your mentees evolve over this 6-week program?
Kat: The mentees did weekly one-to-ones with their individual mentors who were manager/director level throughout the company. We also had weekly group meetings, led by Rajiv and myself, that included guest speakers and time for us to go through developments on their project brief. You can definitely track the progress just by looking at the work from week to week. But more importantly, there were random teaching moments where our advice was novel to someone or really clicked, and that felt like growth for all of us.
Rajiv: To be honest, I didn't know what to expect. I feared that it would be difficult to really keep a group engaged for six weeks virtually. You just can't ever truly replicate that IRL magic of being in the same room and working through ideas– building that bond, but boy was I wrong. We lucked out with a group of mature, sharp and truly engaged bunch of prospects who inspired Kat and I throughout. I think we really forged a true connection with each and every one of them. To the point Kat and I would message on Teams “I'm so proud”, like proud creative parents almost. It was truly rewarding.
"Kat and I would message on Teams “I'm so proud”, like proud creative parents almost. It was truly rewarding."
How did remoteness factor into how and what you taught and the advice you gave?
Kat: I don’t think the remoteness changed the way we taught or structured the program. If anything, it was a blessing because our group was spread out across multiple cities and we wouldn’t be able to work together if we had to all meet in person.
Rajiv: Remoteness didn't change much to be honest. We made a point to say from day one that we will mentor you and do our best to instruct along the way, but we're also going to treat you like we would an ad pro. You're going to get feedback on ideas as if you were one of our 160over90 peers. This is where the growth happens. Of course, we made sure to nurture, but baby our mentees we did not, and I think that played a big role in their final product and growth over the month and a half that we were together.
Would you participate in Mentor & Creative again?
Kat: I would absolutely do this again. I came up through the IPG InterAct Program, so mentorship has been a critical part of my career from the jump. I can spend the rest of my career supporting others the way I’ve been supported. It takes a village to raise a creative! I’ve always wanted to teach a class, but haven’t had enough time to do it. Programs like this give me a manageable way to scratch that itch.
Rajiv: 100%. Ideally we'll be able to do this next in a world where we can sit in the same room and make and break things together and in a shared space but either way, the experience was a fulfilling one. It's important that no matter if we get to be in a physical space or are relegated to the digital realm that development of talent doesn't stop. If anything there should be a greater emphasis placed on this fact.
How do you think this experience made a positive impact on both you (the mentors) and on your mentees?
Kat: This experience has given me a gauge on the level of work that’s coming out of schools right now and I have to say the future is bright. I hope that the mentees got what they wanted (most said a book piece) and more.
"This experience has given me a gauge on the level of work that’s coming out of schools right now and I have to say the future is bright."
Rajiv: These are formative moments for these young people and if we had even a tiny impact in their futures, that makes it all worthwhile. Being able to hopefully share some of our wisdoms, watchouts and hacks. That was fun. I wish I had me when I was in their shoes a decade ago. It would have saved me a lot of time.
After seeing the students final presentation/deck for UFC Fight Pass, what were you thinking and how did you feel?
Kat: Rajiv and I felt overwhelmingly proud of the presentation. The group demonstrated an impressive level of creative and strategic thinking and also technical skill. One client said that the presentation could’ve come from industry veterans.
Rajiv: I'm so proud. The client’s engagement and reaction was telling (shoutout to Crowley Sullivan and his team at UFC for getting so involved). They truly brought great thinking to the table that was in line with where the UFC and Fight Pass are heading as a sport and platform. Don't be surprised if some of what was in that deck makes it out into the real world one day.
In a post covid world, how do you think we can reimagine this program to make it even better than it already is?
Kat: Who knows what the industry or the world will look like after this. I just appreciate the way The One Club was able to pivot and make this happen.
Rajiv: I wouldn't even say post-COVID. Who knows what the world will look like. I will say that it's important to not just put these young professionals out into the world without building an ecosystem of support that follows them long after this program is done. This business is a hard one to break into and any nurturing you can get goes a long way.
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