Your Career and You: “One Hell of a Ride”

Publication1This past Friday was a tough one for me. I don’t think anyone noticed at all, but it was.

First of all, it was (for my classes) the last formal teaching interaction I will have with Curry College students.

Second, it was my last Awards Ceremony in which I was able to recognize a young man or woman for having fully embraced the idea of public relations as his or her career and for having accomplished more than any sane person could be expected to accomplish in four seemingly lightning-fast years.

I found myself, throughout the day, talking with students about this coming fall semester and then catching myself and saying, “But you’re not going to be here to do that, Kirk.”

The (albeit temporary) good news is that a good friend and proven PR pro, Kirsten Whitten, will take my place teaching the “Principles of PR” and “Publicity Techniques” courses as well as serve as adviser for the Curry College Public Relations Student Association.

The not-so-good news is that I’m not sure what will happen to the PR Concentration. We (the Curry students who have drunk the “PR Kool-Aid” and I) have built a pretty decent program with a solid track record of troops graduating and going into some very cool jobs. Let’s hope my replacement will keep the momentum going.

I have thoroughly enjoyed every single day of the 13-plus years that I’ve been teaching at Curry.

I’ve made some good friends among the staff, faculty, and other employees…trust me…there are some awesome people working at Curry! And, for the 80-bazillionth time, I will say I am walking away with a goodly number of friends/former students from whom I take great delight in hearing their own love for what they’re doing.

Let me be clear. Curry College students are no different from college students anywhere. They’re not perfect. Not every single one is cut out to be a superstar. But each, in his or her own special way, is destined to achieve something.

That “something” may not be clear yet…remember…it took me nearly eight years to figure out that public relations was where I belonged.

And the irony of it is that I am closing out my 40-plus years as a working professional doing exactly what I said 40-plus years ago I wanted to be doing…only it’s in a profession I had never heard of some 40 years ago!

So there you have it. I’m on the next-to-last page of this chapter in the book of my life. I have no clue what’s next, but, if the past 40 years are any indication, it’s going to be one hell of a ride!

So stay tuned!

Posted in Action, careers, Curry College, Education, PR, PR students, public relations, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Vietnam Memory

Publication1This post is a marked difference from my usual career-oriented pieces. A fantastic book entitled “Escape from Saigon” triggered some long-repressed memories and led to my writing about a night that I thought had been forgotten.

Heartfelt thanks to book author, friend and colleague Dick Pirozzolo for inviting me to share my thoughts on the final days of the Vietnam War. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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Your Career and You: “It’s What I Do”

Publication1I do some “navel-gazing” once in a while. I learned a long time ago that reality checks are a critical part of making sure you’re not losing control of your sanity.

Recently, I’ve started a semi-habit of tallying up everything that I’ve done on a particular Sunday. While it’s probably annoying to many folks who either read my ramblings on purpose or accidentally come across them, I find it encouraging to see that I can still successfully complete a gazillion “to-dos” without breaking a sweat.

Now that I’m zeroing in on that mythical thing called “retirement,” I’m starting to think about that new phase of my life and how I’m either going to adjust…or not.

I’ve been at Curry College now for closing in on 14 years, and I taught for a couple of years before this at several other colleges in the Boston area. This was after having worked as a public relations professional for more than 35 years. I know I wasn’t wired to sit around and do little or nothing, so this truly is an important step in the process.

There are two distinct parts to this planning.

First, my wife Margaret and I have made eight permanent-ish moves in the course of our married life and at least a half-dozen temporary moves. And every single one of those moves has had us out-and-about exploring new neighborhoods and becoming as familiar as possible with our surroundings.

Second, as soon as possible after making a move, I find something work-related to do. Granted, in these earlier times, it was totally “real work,” earn-a-living stuff, including internship assignments and permanent jobs.

The focus now is going to be on continuing my involvement both in the education of future public relations practitioners…part-time teaching at a college or university…and in the activities of a local PRSA chapter. (Fair warning to my future Tampa-area PRSA colleagues…I’m on my way!)

I’ve seen others segue into this retirement thing and basically shut down all that they did in their earlier years. They seem to be content to putter around the house and basically (in my mind) waste time.

Nunh-unh. Ain’t gonna happen that way for me.

I’m convinced that the secret to long and productive living is to keep your mind and your body in a constant state of activity. There’s sooo much that I need to learn (still trying to figure out how Snapchat works, for example) and…I think…so much that I can offer to young up-and-coming PR pros.

So here’s to Chapter Whatever in my life’s story. Starting all over again for the bazillionth time in a new location. Making new friends. Learning new things. Sharing my knowledge, experience, and passion for public relations with others.

It’s what I do.

Posted in Action, careers, Curry College, PR, PR students, professional organizations, PRSA, public relations, Public Relations Society of America, Thinking | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Your Career and You: “Who Should You Trust?”

publication1“Fake news” is the topic du jour these days. What’s true? What’s false? Who can you trust to assure you it’s true or false?

I love it, in my Introduction to Mass Communication classes at Curry College, where I head the Public Relations Concentration in our Communication Department, when we get to the chapter on Radio and read about the impact of “War of the Worlds” on that fledgling medium’s credibility.

Unknowing…trusting…listeners were excitedly informed via what seemed to be “special news reports” that Martians were invading Earth, and, to no surprise, panic came first, followed by media outrage at this communication of false information.

There also has been, for decades if not centuries, that handy little gadget called “propaganda” through which trusting publics have been fed seemingly credible information from seemingly equally credible institutions or individuals. Otherwise peace-loving citizens have been persuaded to speak up in fervent support of wars to “end all wars” or to express hatred for those who were “different.”

News consumers want and deserve to be able to trust sources of news and information. They should not have to parse every single detail of a news report and then have to conduct a full background investigation on the individual communicating that news in their desire to be informed.

There’s no easy solution to this conundrum. Social media has made it possible for anyone with internet access to “report” virtually anything he or she wishes, with no fear of a gatekeeper (whose responsibility in traditional media it is to verify both the information and the source of that information) “interfering.”

For those of you preparing to embark on a career in some area of communication, the challenge will be there…the pressure to “be first to report the news” for journalists or to “tell if fast and tell it first” for PR pros.

Remember…it’s your credibility on the line here, so, as I say to my advisees and others so often, “Take a deep breath. Then act.”

Particularly for those of us on the PR side, there’s the added pressure of bosses or clients breathing down our necks impatiently as we work diligently to verify the information that we’re going to release. Same holds true for journalists with editors pacing back and forth “waiting” for you to break the news.

This thought brings to mind the wise advice of Arthur W. Page, Vice President, Public Relations, AT&T, from 1927 to 1947. Mr. Page absolutely nailed it in the first of his seven principles of public relations: “Tell the truth.”

Not “tell the people what your boss wants them to know.”


If only our nation’s leader(s) and others would take this advice to heart. Then we wouldn’t have to ask the question, “Who should you trust?”

Posted in Action, careers, Code of Ethics, Communication, Critical Thinking, Curry College, Ethics, PR, PR students, public relations, social media, Thinking | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “You’re Not In This Alone”

publication1Part of my “other duties as assigned” at Curry College where I head up our Communication Department‘s Public Relations Concentration is being available to students for advice and counsel. I do this “officially” for a couple dozen, “unofficially” for countless others. I share personal experiences, advice, and words of caution on a daily basis.

In that role, I’ve had conversations with three students just this week about changes they’re considering. Two were about a major change…transferring to another school; the other was about changing from one business-area focus to another.

As always, I asked in the course of our conversation, “Who have you talked with about this?”

I’m not being nosy. I just want to make sure that they are turning to others (besides me) for advice or a simple reality check. More often than not, the answer is “You’re the only person I’ve told about this except my parents.”

Talking to your parents is a good thing! You really don’t want to drop major surprises on them! Trust me…been there…done that…learned my lesson.

But I also learned that I needed to do some serious self-reflection in the process in order to be able to present my reasoning for doing what I planned to do. And, on occasion in the process, I changed my mind simply because I realized that what I planned to do was not a wise move.

We all like to feel like we’re adults and don’t need someone else to “tell” us what to do. But, believe it or not, you actually do…and it’s not “telling”…it’s “advising”…a BIG difference.

Successful business leaders don’t operate in a vacuum. They turn to others to get their take on thoughts, ideas, and plans. It can be as formal as a scheduled meeting or as casual as a quick chat in the hallway. Whatever the process, they’re getting another person’s input and benefiting from his or her own experience.

Getting someone else’s input doesn’t come easily or naturally to everyone. I’m notorious for coming up with ideas for PR programs, doing all the planning and organizing legwork, and then dropping the proverbial “’here’s what we’re doing’ bomb” on my co-workers. (Since this is a public blog, I won’t use the rather descriptive words that usually formed their responses!)

Bottom line here: Make your plans. Think them through carefully. Then turn to someone who you believe will understand what you’re trying to do and ask, “What do you think?”

Yes. You’re putting yourself out there by implying that you need others’ feedback to make a decision. But in the business world, that’s called “collaboration,” and that’s how you succeed.

The important thing to remember is this: “You’re not in this alone.”

Posted in Action, careers, Communication, Curry College, Education, feedback, mentoring, networking, PR, public relations, Thinking, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “The Rollercoaster Called ‘Life’”

publication1The past several months have been “less than optimal” on my side of the world. There have been some more-than-appreciated “ups”…accompanied by what is starting to seem like an increasing number of “downs.”

Kind of like a rollercoaster…which I rode once more than 40 years ago and swore I would never…ever…do again.

But that was also very early in my professional career. Looking back on it, I now realize that I actually never got off the blasted thing!

Life is like that. You’re going to have those moments/weeks/years where everything goes so incredibly well that you have to pinch yourself once in a while for a reality check. Then…WHAM! Something happens…professional…personal…both…that sticks a giant piece of bubblegum in your hair.

Quite a few meetings with my advisees and other students at Curry College, where I head up the Public Relations Concentration in our Communication Department, revolve around untangling the bubblegum mess.

Maybe it’s a personal thing…boyfriend…girlfriend…roommate.

Or it’s work-related…I’m always amazed at how many of my Rockstar COM/PR friends are excelling in their schoolwork, involved up to their ears in extracurricular activities, AND working one or two part-time jobs.

Or it’s about a particular course they’re taking…or a particular professor who’s teaching that course that they’re taking.

Whatever the case, the rollercoaster has reached the top and is picking up speed on the downward slope. And they’re worried/irritated/scared…pick your emotion.

My basic and unchanging overall response regardless of the cause of the mega-angst is “stuff happens, and most of the time, there’s not a doggone thing you could have done to prevent it.”

I’m not dodging the subject here. I’m trying to reassure them that we all, at some uncomfortably unpleasant time in our lives, have been through something similar. And, to put it plainly, “It sucks.”

But it also happens, so pick yourself up, get the rest of the bubblegum out of your hair, and move on.

Most of the time, the remedy to the problem is simple…ish. You make a change.

I’m not going to go wandering into the romantic briarpatch. It’s your girl-/boyfriend. Time for some serious self-evaluation and (as we/I love to talk about in “Principles of PR”) “two-way symmetric communication.”

Work problems are another thing. Especially for my students, they’re mostly part-timers and, to some extent, “disposable.” But I do recommend that they have a conversation with their work supervisor about the issue and see if there’s a way to resolve it. If not, decision time. Put up, or get out. And a few over the years have chosen the “get out” and have seen a change for the better.

Finally, course/professor… This is a tough one, too, but one for which there are proven steps to take to (hopefully) ease the agony.

If it’s the course, I advise students to have a serious, one-on-one conversation with the professor. Most of the time he or she has had other students with the same problem and has been able to offer suggestions on how to turn things around.

If it’s the professor…hooo boy…change if you can; stick it out and do the best you can if you can’t. I’m a realist here…once in a while you are going to meet someone who you just can’t stand. That’s life. It happens.

I had a professor my freshman quarter at Auburn University when I thought I was going to be the world’s greatest civil engineer. I flat-out did not like the guy, and the course was doing a spectacular job of driving me nuts. So I talked to him. It was obvious he didn’t care. I stuck it out…failed the course…changed majors…and went on to do well academically.

Looking back over my professional life after graduating, there are clearly-defined periods where I was on the uphill climb with success after success piling up. And there are the darker times when life, as I like to describe it, was “going to hell in a handbasket.”

But I always came back, and continue to do so to this day. This is the lesson/advice I try to pass on to my students, to colleagues, to anyone who asks. Have confidence in yourself. Give 110% to everything you undertake. And recognize that life truly is a rollercoaster. Wheeee!

Posted in careers, Communication, Curry College, Education, feedback, overload, PR, PR students, public relations, Thinking, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Your Career and You: “I Didn’t Have Time”

publication1A colleague at Curry College, where I oversee the Public Relations Concentration in our Communication Department, made an interesting comment recently that got me to thinking about priorities and common sense.

We were talking about how the spring semester had gotten off to a somewhat frenetic start and our days were basically disintegrating as a result of endless meetings and other “stuff.”

Then, out of the clear blue, he commented, “I don’t even have time to check my mail. I check it maybe once a month.”

Now on the surface this sounds like “oh, poor you, I understand completely” material except…

His mailbox is roughly 120 (I counted!) steps from his office and he seems to have enough time to go get coffee, “confer” with other colleagues on matters of “importance,” etc., etc.

As I tell my students when talking about public relations and expectations of employers or clients, “Setting priorities is a key element in your success as a public relations professional.”

Not checking mail isn’t going to bring the world to a screeching halt. But not meeting a deadline could throw a serious monkey wrench into the cogs of your own career progression machine.

How to avoid this time-controlled spiderweb? A couple of ideas…

First, know your own capabilities and available resources. If this is a project that requires skills that maybe you’re not yet at the top of your game with, find or ask for backup support. For example, I know for a fact that I’m a lousy designer so, if I’m working on some collateral material for a client that requires a certain level of design proficiency, I recruit someone to help me who does have that ability.

Second, I’ve been on this planet long enough to know that “life” has a tendency to do what it wants to do regardless of what tasks I might have on my to-do list. If some unexpected (or expected) thing bubbles up, accept the fact that you will very likely have to devote additional time…in other words, you’re not going to go out with your friends tonight…you’re going to be at your desk completing the project.

Third, it’s not about “you.” You “volunteered” for this assignment/project. You put your personal and professional reputations on the line by implying “I can do this.” It’s a slippery slope that you’ll find yourself on when you start finding excuses for not completing projects on time.

So do some serious self-assessment and come to a solid understanding of how you operate. Be realistic in volunteering for assignments. And don’t forget to check your mail.

Posted in Action, careers, Communication, Curry College, overload, Planning, PR, PR students, public relations, Time management | Tagged , , | Leave a comment