September for the Public Relations Society of America is branded as “Ethics Month,” and we as a Society are running like gerbils on the wheel in our cage to inform, educate, and increase awareness of the role that ethics plays in our lives as PR professionals.
My undergrad Communication students at Curry College are getting a healthy dose of this in my “Principles of Public Relations” and other classes, and I send them to PRSA’s “Code of Ethics” for an early writing assignment to reinforce our classroom discussions.
Ethics is an interesting topic that usually sparks lively pro-and-con discussions on what’s considered “right” or “wrong.” It also usually triggers the question, “Who cares?”
That last part, in my opinion, is the heart of the matter. Who does care?
The last time I checked, the world had not stopped in its tracks because someone chose to act unethically.
Molten lava didn’t fall from the sky to wipe out entire cities.
Nope. Life chugged along as usual. People went to work. Babies cried. Students freaked out over homework assignments. Life as usual.
But, I would offer, unethical acts done by public relations professionals (and others, I hasten to add…are we listening, NFL leadership??) do matter. And things do happen.
> Corporate as well as personal reputations are smudged.
> Brands are tarnished.
> Doubt and distrust begin to fester in the dark corners of the public’s minds.
And so the slip down the slope begins.
I’m an optimist. You know that if you’ve spent even a micro-second on my blog. I believe that we all are born programmed to do the right thing.
But some of us, for all kinds of personal or professional reasons, choose not to do the “right” thing at some point.
> We cut corners.
> We fudge facts.
> We play favorites.
> We act unethically.
We don’t have to, though. We can stand firm when dealing with clients, employers, or employees who just can’t see why ethical practice is so important.
This isn’t always the proverbial “walk in the park.” The concepts that we, as PR professionals, hold as important don’t always match the perceptions of others. So it falls on our shoulders to not only adhere to ethical standards of practice, but also to try to help others understand why it is important.
So here’s a thought…If you’re not already, make yourself familiar with PRSA’s Code of Ethics. Do as I have done for countless years and display a copy of the Code in your work area for others to see.
Most important, be alert for potential ethical issues and be prepared and willing to point out…and offer alternatives to…possible unethical acts.
Your actions and suggestions are not always going to be greeted with open arms. You will meet resistance from some.
It’s your choice.
It’s your profession.
It’s your professional pride and reputation.
Ethical? Or unethical?
To quote the famous philosopher Leo Durocher, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
I had a brief conversation with a friend at Curry College recently who commented on the habit of younger (than the two of us!) people today responding to a “Thank You” with a (usually) muttered “No Problem.”
No Problem?!? I didn’t ask for a recap of the state of the nation…although “no problem” would be as far from accurate as humanly possible at this point if that were the case.
It seems that common courtesies are becoming more and more uncommon. And it’s not just the younger generations who are the guilty parties. I went to dinner with some friends a while back. We enjoyed great service from an attentive…and engaging…waitperson who took extra pains to make our experience outstanding.
I noticed almost immediately that one of my dinner companions absolutely would not even acknowledge this person’s existence…never looked at her…never spoke to her…nothing.
Before you launch into your “Kirk, you’re showing your age” speech, I’m not suggesting that we should bring back the sanitary conditions of the 17th and 18th centuries that “inspired” the custom of the gentleman walking on the street side when accompanying a lady in the event someone chose that moment to dump (how do we say it daintily?) “waste” out the upstairs window onto the sidewalk below.
No. I’m simply saying that it’s not an onerous duty to, at the very least, let the person with whom you’re interacting feel that he or she actually exists.
It’s not rocket science. It’s a very simple effort to maintain what is slowly eroding thanks to the proliferation of internet-based communication platforms (I’m talking about you, Twitter and Facebook…and other culprits!) that facilitate person-to-person or person-to-group communication without the actual face-to-face contact.
A simple and sincere request from yours truly. The next time you go to eat, or to shop, try this…
Look at the person who is assisting you.
Smile. Say “hello.” Say “thank you.” Say “you’re welcome.”
You might be pleasantly surprised by the reaction you get.
Relationships…It’s about the UNcommon courtesies.
This particular birthday, though, is somewhat significant in a “ships passing in the night” sort of way. My age matches the year I graduated from the University of Georgia and embarked on a totally unplanned-for and unexpected life…’68.
I woke up this morning and immediately thought of those people whose path I have crossed (or impeded, depending on who you ask!) and their influence on where I am today. I’ve mentioned some in previous blog posts; others you’re meeting for the first time. And this is by no means a comprehensive listing…it would take another 68 years to compile that list!
- I just recently gave a shout-out to Professor Bob Hill Anderson who, during my brief dalliance at Middle Georgia College, jerked me out of my pig-lazy state of mind and re-introduced me to the joys of reading.
- Then there was Professor Ray Register, who I first met during my disastrous encounter with Auburn University (my fault, not theirs) and reconnected with again at the University of Georgia. Ray’s joie de vivre was nothing short of infectious.
- Clinton Parks, my public affairs internship supervisor at the US Army Training and Doctrine Command, has appeared several times over the past few years as someone who showed me how genuine, from-the-heart, caring can make a difference in one’s life and career.
- My late step-father, William Malcolm Towson, set an example for me of how “successful” and “good” do not have to be contradictory terms. “Bill,” as I called him from the git-go, was a truly good, caring father, husband, and role model. I have done my best over the years to live my life as he lived his…placing the well-being of others ahead of everything else.
- “Papa So,” my father-in-law, whose insatiable curiosity and enthusiastic love of life cemented my relationship with a culture and a way of thinking that have influenced my own life and lifestyle.
There are…and will be…others who impact my life in one way or another in the coming years, but these are at the top of my mind on this particular day.
What’s the point of all this, you ask?
Very simply…that I hope with all my heart that these gentlemen…and the countless others who go unnamed today…understood the impact that they have had.
I would not be doing what I’m doing today and would not have done what I did for the earlier part of my career had it not been for their influence and their example. They gave me the courage, the conviction, and the commitment to follow my instincts…and my heart.
The challenge for me and for you, dear reader, is to live our lives in such a way as to help someone else find his or her way in life.
By our actions, both direct and indirect, we can and will influence others.
Are you ready?
They eagerly point out the oceans of very visible advertising that surround the release of new software…or cars…or movies…and they ask, logically enough, “What role does public relations play in all this?”
A visit to my favorite locally-owned and operated farmstand recently gave me a terrific example for a response. As my wife and I neared the stand, we noticed that traffic was backed up almost a quarter of a mile…cars trying to enter and to leave the parking lot.
It wasn’t a holiday period, so what was going on??
Turns out the folks who run the place were having a fundraising “Ice Cream Social” to support a well-known charity.
And people were pouring in by the carload to support the cause by paying to eat ice cream…and to then buy stuff…fruits and veggies.
Wilson Farm is widely known not only for its very fresh products but also for its commitment to and involvement in the community. And this is not “corporate speak.” This attitude is reflected in the actions of management and employees who all enthusiastically get involved.
Community involvement is not a new concept, but it is one that is carried out with varying degrees of success by organizations large and small, global and local, for-profit and not-for-profit.
What we’re talking about here, purely and simply, is “relationship-building”…creating a connection with stakeholders…people or organizations who either are affected by your activities or could potentially affect your activities in some way…customers, suppliers, neighbors, town government…the list runs on and on.
And here’s why this is important.
No matter how important or different you think you are…others don’t. A farmstand is a grocery store is a farmer’s market. They all sell fruits, vegetables, and “stuff.”
So why should or would people come to you??
Simple answer…because they feel like they know you…they feel like you’re a part of their community or their life…they see the genuineness of your actions and, for that reason, they want to support you.
As is the case with Wilson Farm, their prices are not necessarily the lowest, and there are easily a half-dozen supermarkets within a ten-minute drive, mostly with lower prices.
But…and here’s the difference…those supermarket “boxes” have zero “personality.” They have less than zero recognition in their communities. They are, purely and simply, “corporate outposts” that hire (mostly) local help.
Wilson Farm is a “destination”…a place to go to for fun, community-related activities…and quality products. Hayrides in the fall. Ice cream socials in the summer. Farm tours for adults as well as for children. Something for everyone!
And, when you get there, not only are you able to get some great fruit and veggies…you see a family-owned and operated business that cares.
And so kids, to borrow a line from “How I Met Your Mother,” that’s how public relations works.
You commit to doing…and you DO…good things.
You get the community involved whenever possible.
You “walk the walk, and you talk the talk.”
It’s not rocket science, but it is good PR!
By the end of the day (That’s all it was??? Seemed like forever!!!), I was mentally, spiritually, and emotionally whipped. And, as those of you who know me can testify, that takes some doing!
When it was all over, I did what is becoming a habit of late…I took a l-o-o-n-n-n-g-g-g-g nap.
Then I started thinking about what had taken place and the effect the whole thing had had on me as well as, I’m sure, the countless dozens of people we came in contact with in the course of the day.
Negativity is just that…a negative force. It’s a vacuum that sucks the enthusiasm and optimism out of everything it comes near.
Nothing kills creativity, passion, spontaneity, and will-to-succeed like a looming dark cloud of “unh-unh…no way.”
This applies regardless of whether you’re a seasoned professional heading a team of younger, less experienced practitioners who are looking to you for guidance to help them succeed or you’re a younger, less experienced practitioner hoping to make your own mark on your chosen profession.
In either case, your approach to challenges and opportunities is noticed by and reacted to by those around you. It doesn’t matter if they’re directly connected or not. Your attitude is seen. Your attitude is judged. And your attitude causes others to act either positively or negatively.
This isn’t to suggest that you should simply go along with every single idea and suggestion that flows your way.
People (subordinates as well as superiors) are fully capable of generating truly bad/blatantly idiotic ideas. I speak both as the recipient…and the creator…of some doozies.
And that’s okay on both sides. Ideas are an indication of someone’s interest and creativity. We don’t all come pre-packaged with the same experiences and perceptions, so there are bound to be some differences of opinion about the true usefulness of an idea.
But I’ve learned over time to listen and evaluate first, then provide either positive or negative feedback. And I’ve learned that, by my taking that time, the other party often is able to better understand why the suggestion is not appropriate.
I’ve also seen the positive results of negative feedback in more carefully thought-out planning and increased enthusiasm because of my willingness to listen and respond openly and honestly.
So what’s this all about?
Simple. Listen to yourself.
How are you reacting or responding to others’ ideas? Do you encourage or discourage creativity?
Just say “no” to negativity.
I just had a very disappointing experience that reinforced one of my longest-standing personal standards…that of simply doing whatever is necessary to get the job done regardless of whether or not the task is in your job description.
We went to lunch at a restaurant that used to be one of the top dining spots in Taipei. We have been there before and had a fabulous experience, so expectations were high.
♥ The restaurant manager greeted us and escorted us to our table…her job was done.
♥ The young lady who took our meal order was gracious and efficient…she did her job.
♥ A couple of other wait staff brought our dishes as they were prepared…they did their jobs.
♥ The young fellow responsible for removing empty dishes did so quickly and efficiently…he did his job.
Then it happened. Our (petite) teapot was empty…
⊗ The restaurant manager walked by and saw that we had no tea…she kept on walking.
⊗ The young lady who took our meal order walked by and saw that we had no tea…she kept on walking.
⊗ The other wait staff noted that we had no tea…but we didn’t need another serving of food…they stood and looked at our table.
⊗ The young fellow responsible for removing empty dishes removed our empty plates and bowls…
I finally called out to the four wait staff now standing and looking and asked as politely as I could muster if someone could refill our teapot.
One of the quartet broke away from the herd, came over, removed the teapot, took it to the back of the dining room, placed it on a counter, and called out to another young lady lurking behind the scenes (I would assume) for just such an occurrence. She appeared, removed the offending article, and disappeared.
Ten minutes later, she reemerged with our now-refilled teapot, delivered it to our table, and vanished.
Then it happened about 20 minutes later…our (petite) teapot was empty…
Ditto the above.
What’s the moral of this story, you ask?
Each of the above cast members has a specific job as (apparently) defined by the restaurant’s powers-that-be. And, either by dictate or by choice, each one does exactly what his or her job description defines as a duty.
“Efficiency” experts would have us marching to the mantra of “if everyone does his job, the job will get done.” And that’s valid in general…until the issue of customer service raises its hand to get our attention.
Here’s where…in successful companies…the focus shifts…from “I’m doing my job” to “I’m doing my job as a member of a team.”
Big difference here.
The former approach is task-oriented… “What incremental contribution can I make to the project at hand by doing my job?”
The latter is results-oriented… “How does my role within the organization contribute to our overall and lasting success?
I recall so vividly spotting the president of a company I worked for years ago washing dirty dishes in the staff break room. When I asked him why he was doing that menial task, his response was, “How can I expect others to care if I don’t care myself?”
I’ve observed folks at companies for which I worked or which I happened to be visiting since that time, and I’ve arrived at a very informal research conclusion:
“Those companies where every single employee sees him- or herself as a member of a seamless team of contributors are the companies that will realize sustainable success because every single member of that company cares.”
How about YOU???
As a (now) “professional” teacher doing my thing at Curry College introducing young undergraduate Communication majors and others to my own lifelong career choice/passion of Public Relations, I talk about a lot of stuff. (Just ask ’em…they’ll tell you!)
Communication Skills…Relationship Building…Internships…
Job Skills…the list can and does go on and on.
It occurred to me recently, though, that I’ve sort of missed one of the more important aspects of successful professional life…that of “patience.”
I talk about getting things done quickly, efficiently, and effectively. But I don’t really spend enough time talking about the role that patience plays in getting those things done.
I know this isn’t an earth-shattering concept, but it has really become apparent to me while I’ve been on vacation how valuable patience can be. (Note to cynics…I mean this in a positive sense!)
- Communication skills are developed over time…there’s not a pill that you can take that will make you a great communicator.
- Relationships are the same…they’re developed slowly and carefully…it’s not “speed-dating.”
- Internships are a way for you to figure out what it is you like doing…and don’t like or are not great at…but this takes time…and usually more than one.
- Job skills come with experience…which means you spend time doing things in order to learn how to do them well.
I’m not naïve enough to believe that I’ve found the “secret sauce” that will change your life.
But I do know that, when practiced, patience can do wonders for your health, your happiness, and your ultimate success in your professional life.
All too often, I get panicky/irritated/confused messages from former or current students that go something like this: “I sent my resume two days ago and haven’t heard anything. What’s going on?” Or, “I’ve been in this position for six months now and haven’t gotten a promotion. I need to find another job.”
I know we all want things to happen when we want them to happen. But that’s not how the world works.
Your priorities are not their priorities. (However…to my past, present, and future students…my deadlines had better become your deadlines! “Due in class” does not mean “later this afternoon at your convenience.”)
Instant gratification…something that, I would venture to say, is becoming the expected norm for emerging generations thanks to today’s online, ever-connected world…is not realistic.
As the saying goes, “All things come to those who wait.”
I’m not preaching procrastination here. Nor am I suggesting that delay is always acceptable.
How about this, though?
At the beginning…before you start firing out resumes, ask someone who’s been there what he or she thinks is an appropriate amount of time to wait before following up on a job application. (Students, this is where your Career Development Center comes into play…talk to them!!)
Or early on…when you’ve settled in to your new job, talk with a co-worker or your supervisor about “how things work” so far as promotions, raises, etc., go. (Note: Work in these questions with those about “best practices” in the workplace, etc…performance-related questions.)
There’s nothing wrong with showing an active interest in your future. It shows you care and are serious about your professional life.
It also acknowledges your recognition that you are just starting out and are looking for guidance from those who are more experienced.
Then…take a deep breath…and be patient!
I’ve been here in Taipei for the past several weeks, decompressing, doing some serious introspection, and pretty much doing what I do every day anyway…reading local newspapers, watching the news on TV, and marveling at the fact that it doesn’t matter where you are…the news is pretty much the same. Murders. Scandals. Motor vehicle accidents. Fires. And an occasional celebrity sighting to break the monotony.
The gist of the article was that local university students are complaining that “the government” isn’t doing enough to ensure that they will get high-paying jobs upon graduation.
The expectation seems to be that, upon completing the requirements for a college degree, there will be a long line of local companies waiting, anxiously hopeful that one of these graduates will deign to select one of them as an employer.
Nothing from these students about “how have I distinguished myself from the thousands of other graduates vying for the same job I want?”
Not a peep about “have I done anything to show that I really, really want this job and am willing to work hard to prove it?”
Nope. Just a pout and a “I have my diploma; where’s my high-paying job?” And finger-pointing at “them”…“the government.”
My interest in this topic lies in the fact that I have been teaching in Boston-area colleges now for more than a dozen years. Not enough to qualify as a wizened higher education guru. But enough to have seen similar attitudes exhibited by some…not all, mind you…of the students who have passed through my classes.
I teach full-time at Curry College now, but I also have taught at Bridgewater State University, Emerson College, Stonehill College, and Regis College. The privileged attitude that I’m talking about exists at all to varying degrees…as well as at other colleges and universities in the area…and, obviously, around the world.
The good news is that this does not represent the majority of students who truly are dedicated, hardworking, determined young pre-professionals who are ready and willing to go to the ends of the earth in their quest for a future.
They balance maxed-out course loads with part-time jobs and internships. They are engaged and involved in on-campus activities. And their grades are exemplary…maybe not all Dean’s List level, but a heck of a lot better than the grades I racked up in college!
My take-away from the article combined with my own experience over the past decade is this: “‘Life’ doesn’t come with guarantees or a ‘preferred customer’ list. You make of it what you put into it. It’s as simple…and as complicated…as that.”
As Global Views Monthly founder, Charles Kao, was reported to have said in response to the local students’ complaints, “Young members of society should review their own abilities and dedication before blaming the government for their low income.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
So don’t stomp petulantly around with your bottom lip poked out far enough for a rooster to park on it. Don’t blame “them” for things that you didn’t or don’t want to do.
Take action now to better improve your chances for getting a solid start when you graduate. Show how you are different, and how you will make a difference.
My wife and her sister are sitting at the dining table chatting while I’m chillin’.
Your logical question should be, “So? Why am I reading this?”
Thanks for asking! Had to get the conversation started somehow!
I’m not sitting in bucolic Belmont, Mass., where I normally hang out. Rather, I’m settled cozily into the apartment in the bustling suburban Taipei district of Jonghe that we’ve been coming to for close to 15 years
This year…2014…actually marks the 40th anniversary of our decamping to Taipei for rest, relaxation, recuperation, and rejuvenation. The city has become by default our “second home,” and we never tire of it.
So your next logical question should be, “So, if you’ve been vacationing there for nearly 40 years, where’s the change?”
Ahhh. Thanks again for asking!
The “change” lies in the fact that, although there are a number of things that we do every single year, we also do a boatload of different things…exploring Taiwan itself from north to south and from east to west, checking out the bazillion different historical sites in and around Taipei, and sampling the cuisines of a dozen or more new restaurants that have sprung up since our last visit.
New sights. New sites. New culinary experiences. New things to see and to learn.
And, at the end of the six-plus weeks that we spend here, I find myself both physically and spiritually renewed, filled with optimism, and eager to get back to my “regular” life of teaching undergraduate public relations courses in the Communication Department at Curry College.
The point, Young Grasshopper, is that you have to get yourself out of the mind-numbing rut into which you have comfortably settled. You have to shake up your smug self-satisfaction by experiencing new ways of living life.
This doesn’t have to include travel to a foreign country, although I am a devout believer in the value of immersing yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of other cultures. You can do this by simply exploring neighborhoods in your own city that you’ve never ventured into.
I periodically bounce out of the subway in Boston at a station I’ve never been to before. While not every experience is totally positive, when I emerge into the daylight wherever I might have selected, I see neighborhoods…and people…that I often have never experienced before.
And I gain a little better understanding of the sprawling metropolis known as “Boston”…its rich ethnic diversity and its blending (sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much) of cultures.
I was waiting for a bus to take me into downtown Saigon to meet my fiancée (now my wife) for a date. He was…standing there.
He asked me where I was going, and I replied that I was going downtown.
- His response: “I’ve never been to Saigon. I’m afraid to go there.”
- Me: “How long have you been stationed here?”
- Him: “Two years.”
“Two years” of missing out on the amazing variety of entertainment and culture that could be found in this vibrant (even though the country was “at war”) city of seven million people.
- Restaurants offering every imaginable type of cuisine (yep, there was even a “Big Boy Hamburgers” on Tu Do Street, and I had my first-ever baked, stuffed lobster at a French restaurant on Nguyen Hue Street).
- Nightclubs offering top-line entertainment (I was noticeably not one of the “cool kids” dressed in my Air Force uniform while everyone else was in suits or evening gowns.)
- Museums…art galleries…bookstores…the list goes on and on.
I experienced it all, unlike this fellow, and that experience whetted my desire to learn more…to get out of the comfortable rut into which I was being tempted thanks to my own small-town upbringing.
So the moral of this story, my friend, is this…
Immerse yourself in the career of your choice…the profession for which you have an unshakeable passion. Do, learn, and become everything you are capable of doing, learning, and becoming.
But allow time for “change.” Do different things. Experience different things. You will fill in the gaps in your “book-learning” and personal upbringing. And you’ll be a better person for having done so.
Change truly is…or can be…good for you!
The countdown has begun to “commencement day” both at Curry College, where I teach full-time in the undergraduate Communication Department and oversee the Public Relations Concentration, and at Regis College, where I teach part-time in the graduate Organizational and Professional Communication area.
Students are beginning to look a little frazzled (as, I might add, are the teachers!). Attention spans are shrinking as “inmates” gaze wistfully out the classroom windows at the hints of spring that are beginning to appear.
And panic is starting to set in as some…not all…students calculate their final grades and realize that skipping class on Fridays probably wasn’t such a good idea after all!
“Yep,” I cheerily remind them all. “This is your last ‘last chance’ to show me you’ve been paying attention and have actually committed to memory some of my classroom ramblings.”
Graduation from college is, for most of us, an unsettling experience. It’s both an ending to our “childhood” and a beginning to the rest of our lives.
We all (or at least most of us) come into this period of our lives with wide-eyed innocence. We’re not sure where we want to…or should…go. We’re making new friends while, at the same time, we’re experiencing the gradual separation from those with whom we’ve shared a large part of our “growing up” years.
And now the cycle is starting again.
There’s no “trick” to the steps that come next. It’s a matter of slowing down to take stock of where you are at this point and to really try to get a focus on your future.
It’s not easy. But if you’ve been paying any attention at all to my musings over the past few years, you know you’re not in this alone.
You have people you can turn to at every single step of the way…starting, of course, with your professors and advisors, then your career services folks, then your friends, family, others who have graduated before you…the list goes on and on.
Use every one of them! Why? Because you never know who knows who. I remember so well meeting my University of Georgia roommate’s parents and learning, much to my surprise (given my roommate’s devotion to mind-boggling laziness), that his Father was a very successful businessman with some awesome connections. (If only I had known that, later in life, I would put my thoughts of teaching English Literature aside and would set my sights on business management!).
So, before the inertia of “summer vacation” sets in…before that first load of dirty laundry that you’ve been stockpiling since Easter finishes the rinse cycle…get started on your new beginning.
- Drop a quick note to those teachers who showed an interest in your plans for the future. Stay on their radar screens.
- Check to see what networking events are taking place in your area. Start (or continue) building your own network of contacts.
- Start setting up informational interviews with those contacts that you’ve made in the past year.
- Do some serious thinking about who you are and who you would like to be.
It’s a new beginning! Are you ready for it?!?