Proactive Public Relations … Poking Tigers


A Guest Post By Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA

I’ve just finished “Lean In ,” a great book by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. It’s a fascinating read with “learned in the trenches” advice on the keys to success…for women primarily, but really for all of us.

The underlying…and overriding…message (as I read it) is “believe in yourself.” And (Kirk’s addition)…don’t be afraid to “poke tigers”…to stand up and challenge the status quo.

That message, to me, is powerful. How many of us have been raised with some variation of “don’t make waves” ringing in our ears?

Tiger-poking is something I actively encourage both my undergrad PR students at Curry College and my graduate Organizational and Professional Communication students at Regis College to engage in.

Many come from traditional family backgrounds where both parents work and the “dream job” is something that will be stable and long-lasting, with potential for a “decent” future.

But I’m different, I guess, and this advice, although well-intentioned, didn‘t work for me. I love challenges and new things. I’m not talking about turmoil…that’s what I love to fix…I’m talking about trying things that others have been unaware of or reluctant to tackle. I look at things from the viewpoint of a potential customer, and I ask questions that no one else within the organization is likely to ask…I “poke the tiger.”

Here’s an early-in-my-career example…

I was offered the opportunity as an Army Public Affairs Intern to interview for the position of Public Affairs Officer for the US Army Intelligence School at Fort Devens, Mass…conservative to the max organization.

Got there a few days early and wandered around the neighboring town of Ayer talking with business people…asking what they knew about the School.

Found out they knew basically nothing other than we were on the Army base…didn’t really know what we did, or why we mattered to them.

I then went in for my interview with the commander of the School (the “president,” in civilian terminology) whose first question point-blank was “Why the hell are you here?”

I could have gone with the good ol’ safe “I’m here to utilize my Army and Air Force-taught public affairs skills to contribute to your success” cookie-cutter response.

Instead, I responded, “Sir, I’ve been here for a couple of days talking with local businesspeople…our neighbors. We’re the biggest organization on this base, and no one knows who we are. We have an image problem, and I’m going to help you fix that.”

The look on his face told me no one had ever had the gumption to tell him his institution’s public image sucked.

We then chatted about my previous experience in both community and media relations…further piquing his interest…which led to an amazing three-year gig that put our organization squarely on the map and got the attention…and respect…of a lot of key people.

The lesson here, as I love to remind my students, is that I got a very cool job…and did some equally cool PR stuff…because I was willing to challenge the status quo (an intelligence organization embracing an all-out PR program??).

A caveat, though. Have a plan…like I did when I met with the colonel. Be ready to explain your actions and their projected results.

But, again, don’t settle for the same “ol’, same ol’.” Try new things. Experiment. Poke tigers.

Who knows? Your story about your own chess-playing Intelligence School soldier just might, as did mine in early-80s fashion, go viral and earn your organization worldwide publicity!

How cool is that?!?

Hazlett_KirkKirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Associate Professor of Communication (Undergraduate) at Curry College in Milton, MA. He also is Visiting Lecturer, Organizational and Professional Communication (Graduate), at Regis College in Weston, MA. Prior to his move into academia, Kirk practiced nonprofit and government public relations and marketing for more than 35 years in the US as well as Asia. Accredited by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), Kirk is a former member of PRSA’s national Board of Directors and has held leadership positions with PRSA Educators Academy and PRSA Northeast District as well as with the Boston and Hawaii PRSA chapters.