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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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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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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What the $%&! Happened???

It hit me this Thanksgiving afternoon as I was dozing off…

I haven’t posted a word here for more than THREE MONTHS!!

It’s not like my brain was off-duty…I’ve been up to my ears in various activities for the Public Relations Society of America’s Board of Ethics and Professional Standards. And I’ve been teaching online for The University of Tampa nonstop.

So what the $%&! happened???

Well, obviously, a LOT of stuff, not the least of which has been and continues to be the ongoing Covid-19 fiasco with, notably, our Country’s reluctance to do anything of a unified nature to get it under control. (Won’t go any further down that alleyway!)

My classes, on the other have, have been terrific! Incredibly lucky to have groups of students who, after they figured out that I wasn’t a complete lunatic, really dove into the work! I’m once again reassured that the communication profession in general is assured of a continuing supply of young, eager future professionals who want to do amazing things.

For PRSA and BEPS, I’ve been doing everything from podcasts to regional PR conferences to an upcoming (February 4, 2021) webinar. I really like being able to share my own thoughts on various ethical issues as well as create opportunities for others to do the same. And, thanks to today’s global social media interactivity, we have been able to communicate those thoughts and ideas to folks literally around the world.

The only downside to the current situation is, of course, that the one thing I thrive on (in spite of being a certified introvert)…human interaction…has been nonexistent. Thank goodness for Zoom and Skype in that I am able to at least see folks’ faces on a screen and find some solace in the knowledge that they often are as tired of this state of affairs as I am.

I just keep reminding myself that there truly is a light at the end of the pandemic-darkened tunnel, and we will emerge into the sunshine of normalcy. Not tomorrow, mind you, but we will.

As British poet laureate John Masefield said so beautifully in his poem aptly entitled “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!

Keep the faith, my friends.

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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.”

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