Your Career and You: “You Can’t ‘Buy’ Ethics”

Publication1 (2)I’m doubling up on my posts about public relations and ethics this month. September is “Ethics Month” for the Public Relations Society of America, and we devote a lot of energy to educating/ reminding public relations professionals about the responsibility that sits on their shoulders when it comes to ethical practice.

I’m happy to also say that my Communication students at Curry College get a reasonably good introduction to ethics in both my “Introduction to Mass Communication” and “Principles of Public Relations” courses. I know that my colleagues at colleges and universities across the nation do the same, so we’re laying a solid foundation for the future of our profession.

I’ve written quite a bit about ethics in public relations, with articles published in the International Public Relations Association’s “Thought Leadership” series as well as in the Public Relations Society of America’s “PRSAY” blog and its monthly newspaper, “Tactics.”

Like any profession, not every single person who calls him- or herself a “public relations practitioner” is pristine in thought and action. There are bad apples everywhere, which makes it even more important that those of us who do conduct ourselves ethically remind the rest of the world that we believe in and support the ethical guidelines laid out for us.

Here’s the deal, though. doesn’t offer “ethics” as one of its many products available for purchase online. And I didn’t see any on any of the shelves at Costco the last time I was there.

Ethical behavior is a very personal thing. You either have it, or you don’t. You can’t be “sort of ethical.” You either are, or you’re not.

So that’s why it’s so important that those of us who do live and breathe ethics as a core element in our thought and practice be willing to share that conviction with others who may, or may not, share that belief.

I’m not suggesting Bible-thumping ethical evangelism (although the mental image of “saved” PR practitioners falling on their knees in a fit of fervent revelation is kind of cool!). Rather, it’s a quiet but consistent commitment that others see, sense, and support.

Ethical conviction comes from the heart, and it shows in every single thing we say and do on behalf of clients or employers.

Will everyone see the light and commit to ethical practice? Not likely. Again, as I said earlier, there are those who believe in the “whatever it takes” theory, and ethics isn’t a consideration.

But we can fight the good fight, and demonstrate to those who are willing to pay heed the long-term benefits of doing the right thing for the right reasons.

You can learn ethics. You can teach ethics. You just can’t buy ethics.

Posted in Code of Ethics, Communication, Curry College, Education, PR, PR students, professional organizations, PRSA, public relations, Public Relations Society of America | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “Help, I Need Somebody…Help, Not Just Anybody!”

Publication1It’s that time of the year again…start of the new semester at Curry College…unfamiliar faces in my classrooms…alarm jolting me awake at 4:45 am after a restful couple of summer months of “sleeping in” until 7. I’ve been doing this “teaching thing” for more than 10 years, and the routine doesn’t change.

One thing that never fails to intrigue me is the inevitable encounter with new (as well as not-so-new) students with questions ranging from “what should I study?” to “why do I need to take this course?”

The good news for them is that this won’t be the first time I’ve been asked these questions. The bad news for me is that I really want to give solid advice that will either set them off on the right path or help them get a more solid footing on that path.

I didn’t take a “counseling” course in college. Whatever I do or say in response to these questions comes as a result of my own “take off the training wheels and see what happens” experiences. (Note: I actually pedaled straight off a 12-foot embankment!)

I remember so vividly a few years back counseling a student who was having some serious home issues as well as college studies challenges. We talked at length about his plans, his dreams, his realities…

Finally, in frustration, he said wistfully, “But I’m just a kid.”

My response to him was, “You might think of yourself as a ‘kid,’ but you’re not. You’re at the very beginning of your career pathway, and you’re going to have to take control of your life.”

I’m happy to say that he has taken control and is on what I’m sure will be a slow but rewarding climb up the professional ladder.

I’ve written many times about my own totally erratic career path. Undergrad degree in English. Undergrad and grad degrees in business management. Career in public relations: Air Force, Army, high tech, member services, PR firm, healthcare, trade association…cemetery. Now teaching.

Looking back more than 50 years ago, I had absolutely not the slightest intention of doing any of this. Certainly not public relations…I had never even heard of public relations! And being a teacher was as close to the bottom of the ladder as I could imagine.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I’m very happy with the way things have turned out. It’s just that I really would have liked to have had someone offering real-life advice of what and where to go.

So we flash forward to today and my roles both in the academic setting and in the world of public relations. The most comforting assurance that I can offer to my charges is “things will change…many times…and that’s okay.”

I go on to remind them that, much like my earlier student, they are on the way to becoming responsible adults, so they need to start focusing on where they want to go and what they want to do.

So here’s the deal. Start asking yourself, “What am I really interested in?”… “What makes sense given my proven abilities?”… “Which internship(s) did I really enjoy and what job possibilities did they offer?”

Then set (and keep) an appointment with your advisor or your mentor…the person who you feel can give you meaningful guidance.

Then…start thinking of yourself as that professional that you believe you are capable of becoming. Start or continue your networking with other professionals in that area. When they see that you are dead serious about your desire to get a foothold in the career field that they, themselves, have succeeded in, they’re going to offer their own advice and guidance.

But it’s a process, so don’t think you’re going to hit the jackpot right off the bat. Be patient. Be persistent. Be positive. And remember…

The Beatles said it first, “Help!”

Posted in careers, Curry College, feedback, internships, job hunting, job search, mentoring, networking | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Your Career and You: “Running for the Bus”

Publication1Classes have started for the fall semester at Curry College where, as a member of the Communication Department, I head the Public Relations Concentration. That translates into a whole new herd of wide-/bleary-eyed students ricocheting from class to class trying to work out some sort of manageable daily routine.

Their feeling of “OhMyGodWhatHaveIDone?” kind of hit home for me this morning as I was doing my own regular commute routine and was running to catch an incoming subway.

Grade school lasts for a lifetime. You start off about the same time you took the training wheels off your bike, and it comes to a crashing end around the time you get your driver’s license.

Then, just when the fog has lifted from your graduation night revels…COLLEGE STARTS!!

You thought you had some idea of what math, history, and English were all about. THEN you find yourself sitting in a class taught by a professor who WROTE A BOOK about the subject.

This raises the “OMGWHID” level to whole new heights, and the temptation to curl up in a corner of your (no-longer-private) room with your teddy bear washes over you.

Especially with my own advisees, most of whom have tentatively decided that public relations is the career path they want to pursue, I say ever-so-gently, “Welcome to my world!”

Life is kind of like that. Sometimes you’re snuggled up with your security blanket; then you’re staring at a “to-do” list that sits on your shoulder and bites your ear once in a while.

Frankly, as I also say to my disciples, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Granted a little peace and quiet helps. But I tend to get bored very quickly when it gets too peaceful and too quiet.

Maybe it’s because I’m the oldest of six children, and I grew up in an environment where there was always something going on. I just assumed that that was the way life works.

I’m not advocating total and absolute uncontrollable pandemonium every single minute of every single day. Unrealistic, unreasonable, and unproductive.

But you really need to keep the creative juices percolating, which means that you need to find or create new and exciting challenges to tackle.

The old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is wise advice, but that doesn’t mean you can’t “tinker” with something a smidge and maybe improve results.

As an intern working for the US Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Public Affairs Office, I was once assigned to the Command’s Publications Branch to learn editorial skills.

One part of our daily routine was doing reading level assessments on every training manual draft that was in the process of being published. Simple enough. The folks in the group had a formula of sorts that they used, and it seemed to work fine.

But I was curious. What if…? How could…?

So, after working with the old formula for a while, I created a new formula, based on the existing one, but in what was to me a more efficient format.

At first my professional colleagues were skeptical, but they also were willing to try new things.

What happened?

They found that my new “tinkered” version enabled them to reduce turn-around time on reading level tests by more than 25 percent! Huge time savings!

And the point, Kirk, is…?

It’s easy to get in the comfortable rut of “that’s the way it’s always been done” and slip into unthinking autopilot. And that’s where you’ll stay…comfortably numb in your unchanging routine.

But you’re not going to go anywhere. You’re going to wake up years later to the reality that you’re doing the same things you were doing at the beginning…and basically at the same level with the same responsibilities. No movement. No growth. Nowhere.

Bit of advice here. Don’t do that. Look for new challenges. Be curious. Ask the “why” questions. Ask the “what if” questions.

Success in life…success in business…does not come from sitting around with the career motor in idle. Success is realized by moving…by doing…by running for the bus!

Why? Because, like your missed promotion, the next “bus” might not show up!

Posted in Communication, Critical Thinking, Curry College, PR students, public relations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “But Is It Ethical??”

Publication1I’ve talked a lot in the past about the various aspects of the public relations profession…superior writing ability, research skills, attention to detail, “big picture” thinking…

One thing I haven’t mentioned, at least not directly, is ethical conduct. No reason for this…just haven’t talked about it much.

I’m happy to say that my Communication students at Curry College, especially those in my PR Concentration, get an introduction to the role of ethics in the communication process. They need to understand that my profession…their future profession…is not a “wild west,” anything goes affair.

I emphasize that we have references to turn to, pointing out in particular the Public Relations Society of America’s “Code of Ethics” that does, in my opinion, a very good job of explaining with real-life examples the specific guidelines and accompanying challenges. I also give them an ethically-challenging situation as an assignment and ask (force??) them to examine the circumstances and make a recommendation for action based on the Code of Ethics.

Could we as educators do more? Of course. By the same token, we as practitioners could do more by reminding our clients or employers of the importance of ethical conduct.

I’m delighted that PRSA devotes one full month…September…each year to ethics education, with a wide variety of webinars, twitter chats, blog posts, in-person presentations at PRSA chapter meetings in all areas of the country, and articles in the Society’s monthly newspaper, “Tactics.”

That’s not to say that, once we’ve observed “Ethics Month,” our work is done. PRSA’s Board of Ethics & Professional Standards, of which I’m a proud member, works year-round with chapters and districts as well as with individual members to address ethical issues and offer advice.

The key takeaway from all this is that ethical thought and action should be part-and-parcel of everything that we as trusted counsel to our client or employer suggest or do. We also should be willing and able to speak up when someone else suggests or does something that we believe to be unethical.

Among our many responsibilities is that of being the “conscience of the organization” which means, when the situation calls for us to do so, asking the oh-so-simple-yet-oh-so-complicated question, “But is it ethical?”

One last thought…another example I give to my students as a means of determining whether or not an action is ethical…the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Would you want someone else lying to you? Or taking advantage of you? Think about it.

Posted in Code of Ethics, Communication, Critical Thinking, Curry College, feedback, Leadership, PR, PRSA, public relations, Public Relations Society of America | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “Success in PR…It’s About ‘Delivery’”

Publication1 (2)Some minor glitches have occurred this summer that brought one major characteristic of a public relations professional into sharp focus for me…delivery of promised actions.

I also realized that this is something I need to give more emphasis to, especially for students in my Public Relations Concentration at Curry College. These troops rely on me to give them a good dose of reality as we cover everything from “here’s what public relations is” to “here’s how to create winning materials to support a client’s or employer’s goals” and on and on and on.

Those folks (clients/employers)…who sign the checks that make it possible for us to buy food and beverage…rely on us to produce plans that turn into programs that result in increased visibility or increased sales or increased public approval. That’s what we do. We help others succeed!

This doesn’t mean that each and every plan or program is guaranteed to be a smashing success (although it would be totally cool if that were the case!). Some things really should never see the light of day.

What it means for us, as the creator or champion of a plan or program, is that we accept full responsibility for its success or failure. And we have to be willing to say that something we suggested is actually not going to be the smashing success we initially thought it would be.

Better to pull the plug now than to invest more time and money in something that, love it though we may, is not going to deliver value.

This is tough, I know. I, for one, take total ownership of every single thing I produce. If it’s good, I bask in the warmth of success. If it’s a dud, I suck it up and try to figure out how to do better the next time.

But someone else is waiting for something to happen. And, as I have learned from painful experience, he or she is not going to be a happy camper when nothing happens and there’s no warning.

I’ve also learned that the (usually brief) moment of unhappiness when I deliver the “it ain’t gonna happen and here’s why” news is a lot more pleasant than what could easily turn into a l-o-o-n-n-n-g-g-g-g period of extreme unhappiness because he or she didn’t know what the situation actually was.

For students in internships, this can be a “learning experience” that will serve them well in the future. They will have learned the true value of clear communication. They will have realized that the world isn’t perfect, and things do go kerfluey from time to time.

More important, they will understand…before they venture into the “real world,” that “actions do speak louder than words.” It’s about delivery…of the product……of the promise…of the message.

Posted in Communication, Curry College, Customer Service, PR students, public relations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Your Career and You: “Helping Leaders Learn”

Publication1I dropped in on a tweetchat a few nights ago where the topic was helping your organization’s leaders understand the value…and the perils…of social media. Lots of lively discussion about an often downplayed aspect of today’s communication world.

This is an area that we, as the communication professionals responsible for what comes out of our organization’s “mouth,” are still sorting out.

I try to help my PR Concentration students at Curry College understand the importance of this role…its perils and pitfalls as well as its potential…and, sadly, there are more than enough examples on a daily basis to back up my words.

The first, (seemingly) logical assumption about a leader is that “he/she is responsible for running the company; he/she understands the importance of accurate, professional, intelligent communication.” As we have seen time and again, though, this isn’t necessarily so.

What’s that, Mr. Trump? Oh, yeah…sorry….

The reality is that many of these folks, brilliant leaders though they may be, don’t fully understand the power of social. And this is where we, savvy communicators that we are, add value.

As we were merrily tweeting about helping leaders learn about social media, I was reminded of a “learning opportunity” I experienced a bazillion years ago…before computers…that has served as my guide ever since (40 years and counting).

I was in the Air Force…enlisted…working the last six years of my service as an audiovisual media specialist running multimedia briefings for a couple of Air Force command groups…16mm movies, 35mm slides, vu-graph presentations…stuff you read about in “the history of communication”!

At one command, I had a multi-slide vu-graph presentation in which many of the slides had multiple overlays, each of which was “flipped” individually to “build” a story on that particular slide.

The slides were constructed for presentation in a scenario where the projector was in front of the screen; each overlay could be flipped smoothly and quickly for a visually seamless show.

BUT…I also was responsible for presentations in another location in which the projection was rear screen…projector behind the screen.

The problem? In that location, the slides had to be placed on the projector upside down, meaning that each slide was literally sitting on top of its overlays. Absolutely no way to smoothly transition each overlay for that slide. Simply. Could. Not. Be. Done.

So…we’re practicing for an upcoming major-league presentation in the rear-screen auditorium and the “slide-flipping” isn’t going smoothly for all the reasons listed.

The officer (remember, I was “enlisted,” not the “leader”!) on stage giving the briefing could not understand why the slides worked so perfectly in the other location but not here. After all, he was a professional communicator. In his mind, I was inept.

The colonel loses it and yells at the sergeant (me), “Why can’t you do this like you do it in the other auditorium?”

The sergeant (me) loses it and yells at the colonel: “You come back here and flip the slides. I’ll be you at the podium.”

(Exchange of irritated glares and mutual stomping of feet as we exchange places follows.)

And we proceed…

Two slides into the presentation…the colonel comes out of the projection room with a sheepish look on his face… “I see what you mean.”

(Now I hasten to say, for those of you who know anything about military protocol, that my seeming insubordination was for private consumption…we were alone. Neither of us would have behaved that way in public. We were professionals who respected each other’s abilities and were willing to discuss problems openly and honestly…in private.)

The takeaway here is two-fold:
> Professional Competence…The colonel was good at his job…I was good at mine. We both understood that.
> Learning Opportunity…I knew that, while the colonel didn’t understand the nuances of how our briefing physically worked…he was the face in front of the crowd, I could show him. So I did.

Finally…to answer the unasked question: “How did we resolve this problem?”

Duh…two sets of slides…one for front-screen projection, one for rear-screen. We simply had never encountered this situation before so hadn’t thought about the need for two sets!

Leaders like to be in control…that’s why they’re leaders. They don’t like surprises; they don’t like the unknown. Social media is still, for many, a huge “unknown.” Our job as their communication professional is to help them understand the unknown and how it can help…or harm…their success.

Posted in Communication, Customer Service, feedback, Leadership, Planning, public relations | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “Summer Daze”

Publication1It’s the middle of July, and so far I’ve “only” read three books and chilled on a six-week-long vacation in my “second home” of Taipei, Taiwan. If you follow me on Twitter or we’re friends on Facebook, you know this last part…and I actually read one of the books while on vacation.

Truth be told, I feel really guilty. I know that my Curry College students are working at least one job. Some are also shoehorning in an internship as part of their Public Relations Concentration. And they’re (theoretically, at least) getting some badly-needed rest and relaxation.I feel like I’m just sitting here twiddling my thumbs.

One of the things I truly enjoy about both my former life as a public relations professional and my current incarnation as a public relations professor sharing my knowledge and experience with future generation(s) of PR pros is the rush I get when I’m actively engaged in my work.

And when there’s a lull in the action, I get antsy. And when I get antsy, I start looking for ways to release that pent-up energy. Which means that I start dreaming up projects to undertake, events to stage…you name it.

My former colleagues at the Blood Bank of Hawaii, Ruth and Kim, figured this out early on. Whenever either passed by my office and saw me kind of just “sitting there,” one or the other would shortly afterwards come wandering in with a “Kirk, could you take a look at…”

Voila! I had something to do and everyone was safe…for the moment!

So what’s this all about?

I’m realizing as time passes that, at least once in a while, you have to sit back, take a deep breath, and let the creative juices rejuvenate. Then, when you head back into your workplace, your head is clear, your brain is firing on all cylinders, and ideas are bouncing about waiting to be released and made reality.

The lesson here, Young Grasshopper, is that you don’t have to be “on” 24/7. It’s okay to take a break. It’s okay to take some “you” time.

Work hard, but take some downtime. Don’t get caught up in a “summer daze”!

Posted in Curry College, internships, overload, PR, public relations | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment