Hurry Up…and W.A.I.T.!

I attended (virtually, of course) a terrific session presented by the PRSA Tampa Bay Chapter on the topic of diversity and inclusion. Lively discussion among the attendees with some valid and valuable observations by all.

The guest speaker referenced an acronym that she had heard herself in an earlier seminar…W.A.I.T.

My ears immediately perked up when she explained what the letters stood for: Why Am I Talking? Or, conversely, Why Aren’t I Talking?

I had a flashback to the rambling discussions I’ve been having of late with my University of Tampa students in my “Introduction to Public Relations” and “Media Ethics” classes about the role that the public relations professional plays (or should play) in an organization’s communications with its publics, both external and internal.

Yes, as I say time and again, “You must be prepared with your company’s or your client’s response to various situations.” But there is a second and equally important part to this that your publics need to understand: “Why are you saying what you’re saying?”

So often, organizations issue “statements” about this, that or the other situation or event. And those folks on the receiving end are sitting there scratching their heads and asking, “Huh?”

We’re seeing a lot of this these days especially in situations relating to the ongoing coronavirus debacle. Different people in different positions of authority or responsibility are firing off pronouncements that leave their target audiences, at best, baffled…worst case scenario, angry.

“WHY am I getting conflicting messages from these people who are supposed to be ‘experts’ in their fields?”

“HOW am I, a trusting soul, supposed to know what I should do if ‘XYZ’ happens to me or my family?”

The fault/blame/responsibility for this confusion, unfortunately, usually falls on the shoulders of the hapless PR representative whose advice was (best case scenario) solicited or (worst case scenario) pretty much ignored in the whole process.

Turning back to the original thought in this, just like I/you/we learned when first venturing out on the street by ourselves and coming to an intersection, “Stop. Look. Listen.” Before firing off your well-meaning statement to those publics who depend on you for information and guidance, whisper this to yourself: WAIT…Why Am I Talking?”

When you can answer this question clearly and simply, do what you’ve trained so hard to do…inform your trusting and dependent publics in a way that answers their questions without causing confusion or uncertainty or…worse…fear.

As Almustafa, “the CHOSEN and the beloved,” says so beautifully in Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet”: “People of Orphalese, of what can I speak save of that which is even now moving within your souls?”

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Networking…Sophisticated Fishing

We (public relations professionals) seem to talk a LOT about the importance of networking. Or, at least, I do. As I told my Curry College students before, and now hammer into the heads of my students at The University of Tampa, “Networking is sophisticated fishing. You find the location(s) where you have the best chance of connecting with someone who might be able to help you, and you ‘fish’ there.”

To succeed, though, you have to do some advance work. You have to do your research and figure out which “fishing holes” will be luckiest for you.

In just about every major city where I’ve lived and worked, there have been at LEAST two or three professional organizations serving the communication profession and, of those, at least two specific to public relations. And each one of those offered a wealth of information, contacts, and possibilities.

But, again, you have to do some research…usually involving attending meetings of each organization to see which one(s) “felt” the best and seemed to offer the most opportunities.

“How do I get started,” you ask? The simple answer for current students is, “Talk to your faculty adviser or your PR professor or anyone on faculty who’s also connected to the local PR community.” He or she should be able to provide you with some initial contacts.

If you’re a recent…or even a not-so-recent…grad, do some research to see which organizations are in your area. Here in the Tampa area, we have the local Tampa Bay chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, the local chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association, and the local chapter of the American Marketing Association.

My advice? Check ’em all out…you never know where you’re going to run into that person or those people who can point you in the direction of professional opportunities.

And, once you identify the organization(s) that you sense will benefit you in your search…get involved.

You don’t have to join a professional organization to attend its meetings and do your networking. Granted, you’ll usually pay a different price than members, but the end benefits will be more than worth it. And, when you do find the right organization for you, you’ll completely understand the benefits of actually joining.

Finally, I said “get involved.” That’s how I got my start both in public relations itself and in my now nearly 40 years of membership in PRSA. I attended meetings in Boston of the local PRSA chapter and the Publicity Club of New England. Both were..and continue to be…amazing networking resources, and I have made a gazillion friends over the years in both.

But PRSA really clicked and, at one of the first meetings I attended, the then-president urged attendees to volunteer for some committee positions. I raised my hand, was given a spot on a committee, and the rest is, as the saying goes, “history.” Active involvement at local chapter, wider district, and finally national levels. And I continue to this day here in the Tampa area with the Tampa Bay Chapter, PRSA. I also occasionally attend local FPRA events when the guest speaker appeals to my “gotta learn more” nature.

But you have to be proactive. You have to seek out the opportunities. You have to “fish where the fishing’s good.” And professional networking truly is “sophisticated fishing.”

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Buckle Up, Sport…It’s Going To Be A Bumpy Ride

Publication1Okay…we’re limping slowly to the end of summer. I wrapped up my summer semester course (online) this week and am in the final throes of calculating grades. It’s been a good class (in my head, of course), and I had a chance to virtually meet some up-and-coming communication professionals heading toward graduation from The University of Tampa.

I’m not entirely sure that they understood the underlying message each time I said to one of them or to all, “Let me know what I can do to help you,” but they’ll figure it out pretty soon.

The “world” outside the campus gates is changing dramatically and rapidly. As the (now-stock) phrase goes, we’re experiencing a “new normal.” Businesses are scrambling to adjust to new ways of operating as well as new expectations from both customers and employees. And it seems like something else pops up just when you’re finally coming to grips with your most recent adjustments.

So why am I talking about this? Simple. These often-eagerly-hopeful young men and women who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting are looking to us…the “older, experienced generation”…to help them get a start in the career field that they have chosen.

This expectation, however, anticipates that we have a solid understanding of just what the job market is going to be like in anywhere from six months to a year and where the opportunities might lie. Which means, in turn, that we have to be solidly plugged in to the specialty area(s) where we got our own experience…as well as the general market.

It’s not a hopeless situation, I hasten to say. It will be more difficult without doubt. But it’s not a lost cause. We, as mentors/advisers/sounding boards for our eager disciples, just have to ramp up our own networking initiatives to ensure that we’re on top of as much as possible before dispensing advice to our eager audiences.

The best way to describe the whole situation is “Buckle up, sport. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.” But good things WILL happen. You just have to believe in yourself.

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It’s raining today, but tomorrow…

Publication1There’s something to be said about life in “paradise”… “Be careful what you wish for.”

We made the transition from many, many years in Massachusetts, with a brief respite in Hawaii, to Florida hell-bent on getting away from frigid winters and having to slog through snow (yeah, it looked so romantic in “Dr. Zhivago“) to go to work. We were careful in our search for a new place to call “home” and took nearly three years to finally settle on the Tampa area.

Seemed like a good idea, and I lucked into a part-time teaching opportunity at The University of Tampa. We built ourselves a brand-new house in a rapidly-developing area on the southeast edge of Tampa…good neighborhood…convenient shopping. But no public transportation, something we had come to really appreciate in Boston. Nothing’s perfect.

But now we’ve been bogged down in the quagmire “affectionately” known as “Covid-19” for going on a lifetime. It’s summer. It’s hot outside. And I/we absolutely refuse to expose ourselves to the idiocy of those humanoids who insist that “it’s not as dangerous as ‘they’ say.” So we’re pretty much stuck at home, making the best of an otherwise awful situation.

I think of my students past and present during these times and reflect on the situation that they find themselves in. They’re a resilient group, and, for the most part, they’re coping as best they can. Some have been hit with “furloughs” (Every time I hear that term, I think of my time in the military…back in that situation, a furlough was often a welcome break from regular duty. Not the same today.) and are as patiently as possible biding their time waiting for “normal life” to return. Those who are still in school are wondering just what life is going to be like when classes start up again in the fall.

The one thing that they all (we all) have in common is a realization of just how important networks can be…work acquaintances, personal friends, former classmates, family…in helping us keep a grip on sanity. Margaret (my wife) talks with her sister in Taipei almost every day. Normally we would be able to spend a month or so there, enjoying a break from our normal routine and sampling the bazillion new restaurants that have sprung up since our last visit. I’m managing to get myself involved in another bazillion PR-related activities ranging from podcast interviews to blog posts to (virtual) speaking engagements.

But it’s not the same. As much as a “routine” is a routine, it’s still a tried, proven and comfortable order of doing things. And you have to wrap your head around the fact for the time being that “things are different now and will be for a while.”

For my student friends and others…take heart. Things will return to some semblance of “normal” sooner or later. In the meantime, reach out to your network and share your feelings. I can guarantee you that you’re not the only person feeling the way you feel.

To close with my favorite quote from poet John Masefield’s “Tomorrow“: “But tomorrow, by the living God, we’ll try the game again.”

Posted in Action, careers, feedback, Inspiration, networking, Planning, pleasure, public relations, The University of Tampa, Thinking, University of Tampa | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Friends Helping Friends

Publication1Over the past few days, I’ve had conversations with various people about everything ranging from “What should I do?” to “Where should I go?” to “Is it really worth it?”.

I think we managed to get to a final conclusion/decision in each one, but one thing was patently clear…if you’re facing some kind of personal/ professional challenge, there’s nothing more reassuring than having a friend to turn to.

That’s what has gotten me through the various dilemmas that I’ve faced over the years, and I have come to realize that a strong network of friends/colleagues to whom you can turn is one of the most valuable assets you can have. It’s a lonely feeling when you’re faced with something that threatens to disrupt your life in some way and you don’t have anyone to whom you can turn “just to talk.”

This isn’t just something that happens when you’re starting out in life…we all run into it at some point…me included. The good news is that you can prepare for the inevitable. The bad news is that so many of us don’t.

There are no magic bullets in this. But there are things you can and should do.
> First…don’t be a hermit. Don’t hole up in your office and not venture out.
> Second…don’t be Mr./Ms. “Anonymous.” Be visible. Be seen. Be there.

Those are the “don’ts.” Now how some “do’s”?
> First…wander around. You’d be surprised at how relatively simple it is to strike up conversations with co-workers in the company cafeteria or local coffee shop or wherever folks tend to hang out.
> Second…whatever your profession…become an actively-participating member of the local organization representing your profession. For me now, for example, it’s the Tampa Bay Chapter, Public Relations Society of America. For you, it’s whatever your line of work is. I can guarantee you there’s an organization in the area for folks just like you.

Things aren’t going to happen…or change…overnight. But in time…patience is a virtue…you will start making new friends/acquaintances and will find that, lo and behold, you’re not the only person who has faced this challenge. And, son of a gun, you’ll find that there are others to whom you can ask “What if…?” or “How did…?” questions.

Now…memberships. As so many of you already know, I can’t not talk about memberships. I’ve been a member of PRSA…Public Relations Society of America…for going on 40 years. And I have more than gotten my “money’s worth” from that connection. From job opportunities to career advice to real-time PR advice, I’ve had more opportunities to draw on the wisdom and expertise of my fellow members than I can begin to remember. And, conversely, I have made myself available to others for just the same.

And that’s what it’s all about, folks. It’s recognizing and accepting the fact that we’re all in this exercise called “life” together. It’s friends helping friends, purely and simply.

 

Posted in Action, careers, Critical Thinking, feedback, Inspiration, job hunting, job search, mentoring, networking, Planning, pleasure, PR, professional organizations, PRSA Boston, PRSA Tampa Bay, public relations, Public Relations Society of America, Thinking, Time management | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Ch…ch…changes”

Publication1We’re closing in on the third anniversary of the signing and handshake that finalized our “Where do we retire?” planning and landed us here in Riverview, Florida.

For anyone who has paid even the slightest attention to my places-lived record over the past 50-ish years, you’ll have noticed that, with a couple of exceptions, three years is the average. Philippines…3 years; Hawaii…3 years; Virginia…3 years. There have been a few shorter stints scattered in between, and we were physically located in Massachusetts for 36 years, but you get the drift.

Coincidentally, my work history has had a similar pattern. With one extremely rare exception…Curry College…I have stayed in my various jobs for anywhere from one to three years. Yes…I was in the Air Force for eight years…but I racked up a total of SEVEN different assignments in that timeframe! I then worked as a civilian employee for the Army for seven years…and three different organizations. The private sector wasn’t any different…16 years…seven different jobs.

Then I lucked..and that is the only way I could possibly describe the occurrence…into a part-time teaching opportunity at Curry (I was also teaching part-time at three other colleges during that period). The part-time gig turned into a full-time position, and the rest is bliss.

Now, in my “sunset years,” I’m happily ensconced at The University of Tampa as an adjunct faculty member, and the troops there are getting used, by fits-and-starts, to my less-than-orthodox approach to life in the “real world.”

I absolutely don’t actively encourage bouncing around your career field as I appear to have done. But I do encourage being realistic about your circumstances and being ready to make a change when it becomes apparent that where you currently are is not the ideal situation. As a very wise (and obviously very tired) salesman sighed to my wife early in our marriage as she found yet another flaw in the household item we were interested in, “Nothing’s perfect, little girl.”

So don’t despair. Take a deep breath. Organize your resume and your job search plans. Talk to people…colleagues…friends…current/former teachers. Get as firm a grip as possible on what lies ahead, and (my all-time favorite saying), “Dive into the deep end.”

Success, both personal and professional, is about facing and managing change. Who knows? You might, as I did, wind up working for someone doing something you absolutely love doing for 16 wonderful years!!

“Still don’t know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild, a million dead-end streets and
Every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet”
–David Bowie, “Changes”

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Finding Inspiration by Inspiring Others

Publication1I had a major epiphany this morning while chatting with a recent University of Tampa graduate/absolute rising PR rockstar. I’ve recruited her to serve as co-chair of the PRSA Tampa Bay “New Professionals” committee, and I was talking with her about the many benefits of both PRSA and local chapter membership.

She mentioned having participated in a recent webinar that the Tampa Bay chapter had presented and how inspired she was to have been able to hear so many valuable tips and techniques from (in her words) “a woman of color in an important position.”

It took about an hour for the full impact of that statement to sink in. Not so much about the “woman of color” or “important position” pieces although they certainly are significant.

No. What hit me like a ton of bricks was the fact that an up-and-coming PR pro…a college student at the time of the event…was inspired by an experience made possible by a professional organization’s efforts to inform and educate its members.

You see…this is what we, the “experienced” generation, should be doing…inspiring by our acts and our words those who will ultimately replace…or possibly work with…us. We should be consciously asking ourselves, “What can I do or say that will encourage someone else to strive to achieve success?”

I know this sounds all hoity-toity, but to be perfectly honest, I have been walking on air since our chat because I’m seeing an example of what inspired me to make the public relations profession my life’s passion. And it reminds me that I still have this opportunity each and every day that I’m in the classroom sharing information and experience with young men and women who, like me so many years ago, are hoping to find inspiration in either their studies or in the interactions with faculty and others.

Our challenge…and opportunity…then is to consciously be looking for ways in which we can share our knowledge…our experience…our hopes and fears…our lessons learned…with those who are eager to soak in our wisdom. And this is the value that organizations like the Public Relations Society of America and so many others bring to the mix…the chance to interact with and learn from those who have succeeded.

“No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies asleep in the dawning of your knowledge.
The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness.
If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.”
Kahlil Gibran, “The Prophet – On Teaching”

Posted in Action, careers, Communication, Critical Thinking, Education, feedback, Inspiration, Leadership, mentoring, networking, Planning, PR, PR students, professional organizations, PRSA, PRSA Tampa Bay, public relations, The University of Tampa, Thinking, University of Tampa | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Summertime…and the livin’ is queasy

Publication1I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am having a devil of a time trying to convince myself that there is a bright-ish side to all this chaos and uncertainty that we have been experiencing.

I realize there’s not a whole heck of a lot…as I’ve said before…I, as a well-intentioned humanoid, can do about things in general. But I sure would like to have some sense of stability. It seems like just when there seems to be a glimmer of hope on the horizon, something else falls out of the sky and we’re scrambling again. I feel like I’m living H.G. Welles’ “War of the Worlds“!

It’s apparent from various posts that I see on social media that others are feeling pretty much the same. The interesting thing for me on reflection is that, in today’s world, we actually have these platforms on which to air our concerns…our revelations…our hopes and fears. Better to put those emotions into words than to bottle them up and, sooner or later, explode in often very unpleasant ways.

I try to keep tabs…at a distance, mind you…on my former Curry College and my current University of Tampa student/friends. I’m not trying to be nosy. It’s just that I know what I’m experiencing emotionally myself, and I want them to know that someone’s listening and cares.

We will get through this madness, and we will all come out the better for the experience. But it’s going to be an uphill slog with no clear end-point in sight. To quote, as I do so often, John Masefield in “Tomorrow“: “And many a broken heart is here and many a broken head; But tomorrow, by the living God, we’ll try the game again.”

Be strong, my friends.

Posted in Critical Thinking, Curry College, feedback, public relations, social media, The University of Tampa, Thinking, University of Tampa | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Where Do We Go From Here?

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No surprise here…I have NO idea what the future holds for any of us.

The optimist in me says “Hang in there. Things WILL get better.” The world has been through other, at the time equally daunting, challenges and somehow has always come out bruised a bit but wiser for the experience.

My internal pessimist, on the other hand, keeps muttering “The world is going to hell in a hand-basket, and no one anywhere has any idea how to deal with the situation.”

I’m old enough to know that there’s not a whole heck of a lot I can do other than “do the right things.” Not crazy about the disruption of my routine and daily feeling of uncertainty about what lies ahead. But certain previous life experiences have taught me that somehow, someway, I’ll get through it.

But others, in particular my amazing students from my previous Curry College and now my University of Tampa days, don’t have this personal “been there” reference point. They’re just starting out on their life’s adventures, and this pandemic pestilence is totally gumming up the works.

I can’t fix things, as much as I wish I could. All I can do is be “be there” for them and encourage them to talk to me when they’re feeling overwhelmed or at a loss for next steps in their lives.

Yeah, it really sucks. Companies, as much as they would dearly love to get back to “life as usual,” are just as much playing it by ear as my student friends. They’re slowly and carefully easing back into previously “normal” work/office routines, but they’re reluctant, for all kinds of good reasons, to make a definitive “we’re back” declaration.

So what do we/you/I do in the meantime?

First of all…Do. NOT. Give. Up! You got where you are because you put your heart and soul into everything you did. Believe in yourself, and believe even moreso in your ability to overcome the challenges that you will encounter.

Second…talk to others…friends…professors (current and past)…parents. Sometimes just the simple act of talking helps put things in perspective and you see more clearly what you need to be doing.

Third…go kick a squirrel. Just kidding, folks. It’s not the squirrel’s fault that things are this way. He (or she) is having enough trouble finding extra acorns to stash away for the winter!

I truly believe that things will eventually return to a modified form of “normal.” I recalled the other day a conversation I had with a student back in the early 70s when I was teaching English to the military in Vietnam. We were chatting about the current state of affairs (our school was on yet another “high alert” status due to reports that we might be attacked by enemy forces).

I asked the student if, at his age…mid-20s, he could remember a time of peace in the country. His answer, very simply, was “No.”

Wow! Talk about “normal.” For him, being on constant alert for possible danger was “normal.”

So welcome to our “new normal.” We will resume doing so many things that we have grown so accustomed to doing…only slightly differently. But we will resume doing them. And we’ll get used to the new way of doing them.

Or as Admiral David Farragut famously said to his fleet during the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864, “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead.”

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Patience…A Virtue That Must Be Nurtured

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I’ll be the first to admit it. When I think of something that I want or want to do, I want it NOW. Not “later.” Not “tomorrow.” NOW!!

I’ve “kind of” mellowed over the years, but this trait has always been my fall-back attitude. And, truth be told, I’ve had a couple of supervisors over the years with whom I’ve had a “let’s face facts” conversation about this tendency.

It’s probably a good thing that, in the latter years of my professional activities, I’ve been in the classroom introducing young men and women to the public relations profession, a career field that occupied the first 30-plus years of my working life. I’ve learned, albeit not without some “differences of opinion” expressed by a few students over the years, to temper my expectations…and my temper.

The deal is, from my perspective, that when you ask (or tell…memories of my active duty Air Force days) someone to do something, you’re making that request for a reason. It’s not “make-work” stuff; it’s REAL. And, especially in public relations, if there’s something that needs to be fixed, reputations and/or customers can be lost if nothing is done.

So two parts to this rambling…

One, be real and be realistic in your request and your expectations. I once lost it with my commanding officer at one Air Force assignment because he had no clue what my job entailed and he kept demanding, basically, the impossible. I “made” him take on my job, and I took on his role. It took him about five minutes of this role-playing to realize that what he was asking/demanding that I do simply could not be done. (Note: It helped that he and I were personal friends in off-duty life, so he didn’t perceive my actions as being insubordinate.)

Two, learn from your own mistakes and those of others. No one is perfect. Period. We all have our flaws, and we all manage to muck things up once in a while. I learned as a very young boy that sticking a metal fingernail file in a wall socket is not advisable. Things go “bzzzzt”…the lights go out throughout the house…and you turn, according to my Mother, a very interesting shade of purple. I also learned in Hawaii during my tenure as Communications Director for the Blood Bank of Hawaii that it’s not a good idea to have a pile of metal poles dumped into one of the four lanes of a heavily-traveled city street. Something about “impeding traffic,” according to the Honolulu police commissioner.

At the same time as all this, though, you must not lose sight of your goal. What is it that you hope to accomplish?

And, what’s required to make it happen?
> Who do you need to help you get it done?
> What resources do you need? Are they readily available?
> What’s the timeline? When does it HAVE to be done?

All this doesn’t come easily to everyone. But if you really want to stand out as a leader, you have to get comfortable with the process. And you have to accept that you, too, will probably stumble along the way. Guess what? You’re human, just like the rest of us!

So tighten up your shoelaces and get started.

Oh, by the way, even tying shoelaces takes patience! How many times have you rushed to tie your shoelaces only to have one or the other come undone while you’re rushing to get “somewhere” on time?

Patience truly is a virtue. Don’t rush it!

Posted in Action, careers, Communication, Critical Thinking, Customer Service, Evaluation, feedback, Leadership, mentoring, PR, PR students, public relations, Thinking, Time management | Tagged , , | Leave a comment