“This Is Just A Test”

I’ll say it again…”I am totally done with this pandemic.” Granted
we (Margaret, my wife, in particular) have ramped “precautionary measures” up a few notches. And, to be perfectly honest, I am damned sick and tired of the routine.

But I also keep reminding myself that this whole exercise isn’t just
about “me” and “my” inconveniences. There are a bazillion people the world over who are much worse off. So…stiff upper lip, Kirk.

I also keep reminding myself that this is an opportunity to step back and recalibrate my activities. I’m still teaching part-time at The University of Tampa and am doing my best to maintain constant and supportive contact with my future-professional friends in the UT Ad Club and UT PRSSA chapters. I’m sort of their faculty adviser and am doing whatever I can to (a) keep them motivated and excited about their chosen career fields and (b) provide them with advice and counsel whenever needed.

But I want to do more. I truly miss my decades-long affiliation with Boston Harborfest, a nonprofit organization created to draw attention to the City’s wonderful history and heritage, Thanks to the efforts of an amazing board of directors of which I was a member for close to 40 years and a motivated, dedicated community of nonprofit institutions located primarily in Boston’s waterfront area, millions of people…local and international…come to Boston annually to experience an incredible week of events showcasing all that Boston has to offer.

I’m here in Tampa now, though, and am still a “newbie.” But things are picking up. I’m mega-involved with PRSA Tampa Bay, PRSA New Professionals and PRSA BEPS activities. And there are a couple of new Tampa-specific activities that have bubbled up in the past month or so that I’m hoping to also lend a hand with.

And that’s what I mean by “a test.” Where can I make a meaningful contribution? Will I feel as fulfilled as I did (still do) with my Harborfest memories? The future is just that…the future.

This, too, is something I try to pass on to my student-friends and others. Yes, you have a “real” job that, hopefully, gives you personal and professional satisfaction. But don’t let that consume your whole life. Find ways in which you can give back to the communities that helped you get where you are today. You’ll find, as I have, that your whole outlook on life improves because you have been able to make a difference.

Life itself is one ginormous test. You just have to “fill in the blanks.” As Nike® says so well, and I repeat so often, “Just do it.”

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Wow…What a Year!

Somehow the first four months of 2021 have managed to sneak in and out without my having consciously noticed them. To be totally honest, so far this year has sucked BIG TIME. But a couple of things have gone right…

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  1. My wife and I are fully vaccinated. Doesn’t mean we’re “out and about” like in olden times. But at least we’re starting to entertain positive thoughts about a vacation…in mid-2022.
  2. An interview that I conducted with Craig Newmark, Founder of CraigsList and Craig Newmark Philanthropies,” was published by the Global Listening Centre for whom I serve as Director and Ethics Committee Chair.
  3. I got a very cool award from The University of Tampa College of Arts and Letters recognizing me as “Outstanding Part-Time Faculty.” Totally unexpected and immensely appreciated!

Classes are finished for Spring 2021 semester at UT, so my brain is on autopilot for a month or so. I’ve got a Summer II class starting in late July, but that’s it for the year. The university is going back to fully in-person classes in the Fall, and I have opted (reluctantly but realistically) not to be a part of the experiment. I’m not convinced that we (Florida/America) will be out of the woods by then. I hope, hope, hope I’m wrong. Time will tell.

That being said, I have absolutely NO intention of slowing down. Planning for various PRSA and PRSA Tampa Bay, as well as UT PRSSA and UT Ad Club, activities is already underway. PRSA and PRSA Tampa Bay will have special “Ethics Month” programming in September which, “coincidentally,” is also the kick-off month for student-focused initiatives. Summer promises to be “interesting.”

But the year’s not even halfway finished, and things in the national/global arenas seem to be falling apart at an increasing speed. The pandemic has definitely brought us a new set of challenges.

So there you have it. Let’s just keep our respective chins up as confidently as possible and hope that, by year’s end, there will, in fact, be a positive light shining at the end of this dark tunnel.

Until then, my friends.

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Once again I am reminded that my obsession with correct
grammar, spelling and punctuation is NOT shared by all.

I’m in the midst of paper-grading for my “Introduction to Organizational Communication” class at The University of
Tampa and already have had to gently chide a student for
incredibly sloppy writing.

Okay. I know. “They’re students, Kirk. Lighten up.

Unh-unh. Not gonna happen.

My goal, besides introducing these folks to various aspects of the communication world, is to make it crystal-clear that attention to detail is a major factor in our world of written and verbal communication. As I rant over and over, “Sloppy writing is a clear sign of laziness. You were too lazy to even ask someone else to help you proof your work.”

I once had a conversation with a good friend… PR agency president…about the dozens of resumes we both got virtually every day from wannabe job applicants. I asked her, “How do you deal with this challenge?”

Her response? “Easy. First typo, trashcan.”

Wow! That cuts to the chase pretty fast, doesn’t it?!?

So here’s the deal as I explain it to my college students. Every college, large and small, has some version of an “academic success” office with professionals on staff to help you with your writing. Take advantage of this benefit. After all, a part of your tuition is used to fund it.

Now, having gotten THAT rant off my chest, I want to hasten to add that I don’t do an Attila-the-Hun assault on sloppy writing. It’s usually just half-a-letter-grade (A-minus instead of A, for example) to get the point across. But, for students who, for whatever reason, are dead-set on making Dean’s List, this “minor” markdown can make a difference.

The bottom line is that I want my students, whether or not they drink the Kool-aid and focus on Public Relations as their area of interest, to be as prepared as possible for their entry into the professional world of communication.

“The Devil is in the details.”

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Giving Back

I had a really encouraging meeting (Zoom, of course) with
Global Listening Centre selection committee members to review and discuss nominees for GLC’s “25 Top Women Listeners,” an initiative designed to recognize women in academia and elsewhere who have demonstrated a commitment to their community and to society. (The list hasn’t been made public yet, so stay tuned!)

Although I serve as the GLC’s Ethics Committee Chair, this was my first experience with this particular activity, and I came away really inspired and reassured that my colleagues around the world are committed to giving back out of appreciation for all that they, themselves, have received thanks to the actions of others.

This is something I try, without getting too smarmy about it, to pass on to my students…before at Curry College and now at The University of Tampa where I am so fortunate to be able to teach as an adjunct professor in the Communication Department.

Yes, we (you, me…all of us) got where we are today partially because of our own skills and abilities. But there was also someone “out there” who was cheering us on.

There’s no price tag on this type of support. We do it because we truly believe that someone…a mentee, a close friend…is capable of succeeding and just needs a “cheerleader” to keep him or her motivated and focused.

I don’t have enough fingers on both hands to count all those wonderful friends and colleagues who were “there” when I was absolutely ready to throw in the towel and give up. And I can only hope that, over time, I have in some way conveyed to each and every one of them my heartfelt thanks.

This is what keeps me going today as well, as I hope it does you. Don’t kick off your shoes and sit back with a self-satisfied “well, that’s taken care of” mindset. Look around you. Where else can you lend a literal or figurative hand? Giving back doesn’t have an end-date. It’s a lifelong commitment that, in the process, delivers you even more rewards.

As I say time and time again, “Let me know how I can help you.”

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It’s Around the Corner

Okay. I’ll admit it. I’m an incorrigible optimist. I firmly believe that something good is out there for me…and for you. But we have to go looking for it. It’s not coming to us.

I’m not sure when this began for me. My childhood kind of got off to a rocky start, and challenges have continued to present themselves ever since. But good things have happened in spite of (or, perhaps, because of??) this.

I’d love to say the good stuff that has happened over the years has been the result of something that I did. And, maybe…just maybe…it did. But I’ll be the first to state categorically that I did not actively try to change the course of things.

Maybe once…when I volunteered for a second assignment to Vietnam so that Margaret (my wife) and I could figure out if we really, really, wanted to get married. (As we begin wrapping up 49 wonderful years together, I guess the answer to that one is/was “Yes, dummy!”)

A lot of cool things have come my way over the three-quarters of a century that I’ve roamed this earth. In spite of my best misguided efforts, I stumbled into a career field…public relations…that has been so incredibly rewarding. I’ve had some amazing opportunities to help organizations succeed. And, as the direct result of a not-so-good employment choice (nothing like getting fired to perk up your day!), I have now been doing what I absolutely love doing for nearly 20 years…teaching public relations.

So now I’m sitting in Riverview, Florida…just outside Tampa…and I’m trying to figure out “What’s next?” Granted, I’m teaching part-time at The University of Tampa (thanks to my faculty colleagues who have made this possible) and I’m actively involved with PRSA Tampa Bay. But that only fills in a few hours a week. The adventure continues…!

As always, the question arises: “So where are you going with this, Kirk?”

The answer is what I try to pass on to my students and anyone else who will listen: “Don’t ‘settle.’ Be curious. If something sounds interesting, try it out. You never know.”

This was me back in 1977 when I decided that eight years’ Air Force service was enough. I wasn’t excited about the things I was doing even though, as I look back on them today, I realize that I was actually building an arsenal of skills and experience that would help me in the future.

So I left the Air Force and started looking for something else. What that “something else” would be, I had absolutely NO clue. Applied for a few entry-level (sort of) management positions. “Thanks, but no thanks” became an all-too-familiar response. Then a newspaper ad announced that the Army Training and Doctrine Command had a paid Public Affairs Internship opportunity.

It sounded “interesting,” so I applied and, son of a gun!, I was accepted! And the rest is, for many of you, all-too-familiar “Kirk history.”

The point here, though, is that I had absolutely NO clue where this adventure was going to take me. But I tried it anyway and now, 43 years later, I am where I am because I was curious about what might be “around the corner.” And here I am, smiling contentedly and looking for what lies ahead for me.

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As Ethics Officer for PRSA Tampa Bay as well as a frequent participant in/contributor to PRSA BEPS programming, and Ethics Committee Chair for the Global Listening Centre, I try to portray the highest standards of ethical conduct practice and encourage others to do the same.

I also try to convey the importance of ethical thought and action to students who are interested in the public relations career field (and others!), previously at Curry College in Massachusetts, now at The University of Tampa here in sunny Florida.

One thing I try to reinforce is the relatively simple concept that whatever you do or say, someone is paying attention. And they may or may not know a whole lot more about a particular topic that you’re addressing than you do. So, to cut to the chase…be mindful of what you say or do.

Where is this going, Kirk? So glad you asked!

I often talk about…and vividly remember…an occasion waaay back in the day when I was teaching conversational English to Vietnamese military. I had been selected while in Air Force basic training to attend the Defense Language Institute’s English Language School at Lackland Air Force Base where I was stationed. It was a voluntary thing that I thought sounded pretty cool. The result was two tours in Vietnam (1969-1970 and 1971-1972, with a brief one-year assignment back in the U.S. in between).

Anywho…I was teaching basic grammar so that Vietnamese student/soldiers could master the language well enough to come to the U.S. for advanced training in some aspect of their specialty area. Not looking for expertise…just basic familiarity.

Now, to be clear, I was/am NOT a grammar expert. My English degree was a specialty in British literature…NOT grammar.

Obviously, in the course of a semester of teaching, students would ask, on occasion, “Mr. Hazlett, what is that verb form?” Sometimes I would know and would confidently provide the answer.

Other times, I had no clue, but figured that these folks just barely understood what was being taught, so I could make up an answer and no one would know differently.

Until that fateful day…

Sentence is on the chalkboard. Student raises hand and asks, “What is that?”

I look at it and have absolutely no clue. So, using the rationale mentioned earlier, I make up an answer.

Suddenly a quiet voice comes from the back of the classroom. “Excuse me, Mr. Hazlett, but you’re wrong.”

Fifty (FIVE-ZERO) years later, I remember his name…Mr. Phu.

“Oh really, Mr. Phu. What is it, then?”

Mr. Phu then launches into a VERY detailed explanation that I recognize immediately as being absolutely correct.

“Mr. Phu, how did you know that?”

“Before I was drafted into the Army, I was a Professor at the University of Saigon. I have a Ph.D. in French. I also studied English.”


So the takeaway from this is, my friends, is just this. Don’t make statements or take actions assuming that “no one else will know.”

Ethical thought and action means taking into consideration the impact you can have on others either positive or negative. It’s doing the RIGHT thing…not just the CONVENIENT thing.

And…Mr. Phu is paying attention!

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Just Wear the Damn Mask

I rarely take sides on public issues in this blog (although you’ll find plenty of examples in various newspapers’ “Letters to the Editor” section, especially the Taipei Times and Tampa Bay Times), but this is an exception simply due to what I perceive as rampant stupidity on the part of so many Americans.

What’s got Kirk all riled up, you ask?!?

Simple-ish…the sudden about-face taken by the CDC, usually a rational-thinking organization but, most recently, suspiciously politically sensitive. The “revised” advice on mask wearing smacks of, somehow, politically-influenced public communication. Telling Americans that it’s perfectly okay to wander around and go shopping without bothering to wear a mask?!? Sorry, “medical experts.” Not smart.

If one thing has become patently obvious throughout the course of the Covid-19 devastation, it is that Americans are arrogantly and thoughtlessly self-centered. All they see or hear is what I rant about in my public relations and organizational communication classes at The University of Tampa… “WIIFM…What’s In It For Me?”

Yes, the entire world…every nation on every continent…is frantically scrambling to get control of the pandemic. But not every person in every nation on every continent has accepted the facts of the challenge. All you have to do is keep up with the international news media in Europe and Asia, for example, to see the different approaches by citizens.

I have zero intention of getting into any “discussions” about my own approach. What I will do is tell you that, when I go out for anything…shopping, checking the mail…I have a mask with me and I wear it when around even ONE person.

Yes. I’m fully vaccinated. Yes. I will get a “booster” shot when the option becomes available.

No…sadly…I will not go back into the physical classroom or to in-person professional meetings until the medical data reassures me that life truly IS back to “normal.” I hate, hate, hate not being able to meet one-on-one with my students or my friends and colleagues.

But I would hate even more finding myself relegated to a bed in a hospital’s ICU hooked up to a respirator.

To close out with a reference that I make a LOT, we’re all in this together and, to get back to “normal,” we have to work together… “We all play in the same band.”

So, please…just wear the damn mask.

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Climbing out of my shell

Yeah, I know. I’ve been pretty much invisible for the past couple of months. No excuses. Just absolutely did not have the motivation to communicate with the outer world. Granted I’ve been teaching my classes at The University of Tampa…online…but that’s kind of been it. Oh, and a couple of pretty cool webinars…one for PRSA on ethics and another for PRSA New Professionals on the challenges and changes being brought about by the pandemic.

But no human-to-human interaction, and for a veteran introvert like me, that is most definitely not a good thing. I’ve written countless letters to the editor of both the Tampa Bay TImes and the Taipei Times, and I’m nearly finished with the first draft of an article for the PRSA New Pros newsletter. And a bazillion Zoom meetings with students and other folks around the globe. Again, no actual human contact involved.

And that’s the way a lot of folks are operating now. It’s not “normal,” but it is going to be the “new normal.” Remote is going to be the standard operating procedure for just about every type of business. Granted there are those activities…the military, law enforcement, top government folks come to mind…that simply can’t not operate virtually all the time. Colleges and universities…and grade schools…are heading back to “real-life/real-time” learning. But for the bulk of the universe, the transition is underway.

I keep reassuring myself (with little-to-no success) that I’m at that age where I really can do whatever I want. But I really thrive on the “vibes” of people around me, conversations going a mile a minute. It’s where I draw my own energy and, inevitably, creative thinking. As I semi-jokingly say to anyone who asks, “I’m a vampire. I need fresh blood around me to keep me going.”

So, we’ll see and time will tell. In the meantime, I encourage you to reach out when you, yourself, feel a need for human interaction. And, as I told the moderator for a recent webinar for which I was a participant, “I have a definite tendency to ramble on…and on…so don’t hesitate to tell me to shut up when you’ve heard enough.” (And, bless his heart, he did just that!)

Ciao for now, my friends. Hope to see you on the screen as well as in person when the time is right!

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What Day Is It?

Publication1Okay, I’ll ‘fess up. I have almost totally lost control of what passes for my “life” these days. Thank goodness I’m teaching a Tuesday/Thursday “Principles of PR” class at The University of Tampa this semester. Otherwise, I would probably be sitting in a closet with my teddybear.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I see enough posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to know that most of us are just doing our best to stay sane. Sure, we’re working…just not in the same way as we’ve been accustomed. And we’re getting “out” (there are quite a few variations of this concept) to do “stuff.” But it’s just not the same.

I’m particularly sensitive (or try to be) to my students’…both current and past…state of mind. For those who actually pay attention to ongoing developments relating to the coronavirus, I’m pretty sure life is nothing short of weird. And, to add an extra layer of icing to the “cake,” our country is slowly getting itself back together after what has to be the most bizarre, outrageous, aggravating political comedy ever experienced.

So, you ask, “Where are you going with this, Kirk?”

Good question! I guess what I’m trying to do is suggest that you/I/we come to grips with the reality that we are in this pandemic quagmire for a long, long time. It’s simply not going to go away easily…kind of like that annoying neighbor who can’t understand why you hate her yapping dogs that insist on “shouting” at the top of their canine voices every single time they’re allowed outside.

Life isn’t going to return to “normal” anytime soon, so we’re going to have to adapt/acclimate/adjust and move on. One way to “move on” is to find new or different ways in which you can get involved in activities that you have always had an interest in but felt like you “didn’t have time for.”

I’ve managed to get even more involved with professional organizations like the Public Relations Society of America, the Public Relations Student Society of America, and the Global Listening Centre. I contribute articles to professional magazines and (probably) annoy the dickens out of editors of the various newspapers that I read by firing in a constant barrage of “Letters to the Editor.” And I solve a boatload of crossword puzzles and other mind-challengers day after day.

What I hope will happen in the process is that others…my students, in particular…will take note of what I’m doing and say to themselves, “Hmmm, if it works for Kirk…”

The main thing at this point in time is, my friends, that since you’ve (we’ve) been given a HUGE supply of lemons, might as well do something with them. And, in the process, with any luck, you’ll find that life once again has a reasonably comfortable routine to it and you’re not constantly having to ask yourself, “What day is it?”

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And We’re Done with It

Publication1I’m posting this on December 30, 2020, for one simple reason…I want to officially say “good bye and good riddance” to 2020. I very honestly can NOT think of any other of the 74 years that I have roamed this earth that has sucked so profoundly.

That’s not to say that I personally have had bad stuff happen. To the contrary, this past year has been filled with cool things…recorded podcasts for PR colleagues both in the U.S. and the U.K...guest presenter for PRSA Maryland’s annual conference…a gazillion letters to the editor published in the New York Times, the Tampa Bay Times and the Taipei Times.

More important, though, was being able to provide advice and guidance to a growing number of my University of Tampa students. Love being asked, both directly and indirectly, “What should I do?” As I’ve said so many times over the years, I was blessed with an internship supervisor, Clinton Parks, at the official beginning of my public affairs/public relations career. Clint went above and beyond to help each and every one of his 20-plus US Army Training and Doctrine Command Public Affairs interns, and I, for one, will never forget his kindness.

Since that time (1977 to be exact), I have made it part of my overall mission, whatever I was doing, to offer my own insights to countless young men and women who have turned to me for assistance. And my reward has been seeing so many of them get a firm foothold on their own career ladders and do amazing things.

So what lies ahead? Well, last time I checked, the earth was still spinning…a little shakily, maybe, but spinning. The sun continues to come up every day with a whole warehouse of opportunities for each and every one of us. It’s up to us, though, to take the initiative and do something with them.

My advice? Be active in your community. Be involved in your professional organization(s). Don’t just show up…DO something! It’s a whole new year, and we have another chance to make a difference…in our own and in others’ lives. Make it happen!

And Happy New Year!!

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