Career Destination 2020

Most PR guys don’t have the luxury of recalibrating their careers at age 60. Most have been put out to pasture — victims of our youth-driven culture. I’m fortunate to have some control over my career exit, thanks to academic tenure and a union contract. So I’ve made some decisions.

1) I will retire from teaching in 2020, at the end of my 28th year — barring unforeseen variables such as untimely death or another Bush-like presidency that crashes my investments. It breaks my heart to think about leaving this incredible… wait, wait. That’s total bullshit. I can’t freakin’ can’t wait to retire, and with the right incentive I’ll exit long before 2020. Send Powerball tickets.

2) I will teach my last 6 years entirely online. At least that’s the plan — and the agreement. My hearing loss (first reported here) forced me to seek accommodation under ADA this past year. Because online assignments don’t require hearing acuity, it’s the best way to keep me on the job, and it costs the university nothing to accommodate me. Win-win.

Don’t cry for me. I love online teaching, particularly since my students are mostly mid-career PR and marcom professionals who write well, meet deadlines and reflect deeply on their work. This isn’t to disparage the hundreds of 20-year-old kids who came through my classrooms these past 22 years. Loved them all. But face-to-face teaching is no longer an option for me. The virtual classroom will be a welcome change, and I can do it from anywhere with an Internet connection. 

3)  I will scale back my professional commitments. There was a time I enjoyed attending conferences and the local meetings of professional groups. Now I find it mostly a burden, thanks to my hearing loss. Truth is, my involvement has been waning for the past 6-7 years. I doubt anyone will notice.

4)  I will give 100% of my energy to my students and the learning communities I oversee. Teaching is more a calling to me than a job, and I will always support student success, whatever it takes. The remainder of my energies I will direct toward administrative chores and attending mind-numbing meetings :-)

Where the magic will happen for the next 6 years. My patio at Sandy Lake.

Where the magic will happen for the next 6 years. My patio at Sandy Lake.

I have the greatest job in the world, and the final years of my career are looking pretty rosy. But I still have much to learn about being on the back nine of life, so I welcome your advice on the topic.

But please don’t call me. As my wife will tell you, I can’t hear shit. Friend me on Facebook, tweet me, or just drop over for a beer at my new office.

That ‘secret search’ is in the headlines. Again.

When a certain Midwestern state university conducted a presidential search in relative secrecy last year, it rightfully drew criticism from news media and public records advocates everywhere (my summary here). And though none of these media outlets challenged the secret search in court, the university suffered great losses in the court of public opinion.

It was a PR disaster. But on the bright side, it’s one that a new president can use to guide future decisions.

Today, that same university broke another cardinal rule of public relations — and life: Let sleeping dogs lie. The search is over, the new president arrives in two weeks, and months of negative publicity are now yesterday’s news. It’s time to move on.

So why submit a forceful defense of its actions to the very newspaper that most criticized those actions? I won’t speculate.

The editorial board of that local newspaper responded to the university’s letter on the same editorial page: Public accountability for public universities. The editorial refutes, point by point, the arguments of the university’s Board chair and, in the process it exposes leadership that puts its own business above public accountability.

This large Midwestern university turns the page in July, when new leadership, and we hope, more enlightened leadership takes over.

I didn’t use the university’s name in this post, as I don’t want to add to its image problem by generating more SEO. Nevertheless, it’s a teachable moment for all who practice public relations. Today’s rationalizations by the Board chair only further embarrasses those who value openness over secrecy in our public institutions.

NFL’s Snyder fumbles the perfect opportunity

77531-nfl-washington-redskins-helmet-balloonDisagree if you’d like, but using the NFL team name “Redskins” is akin to using the N-word. It’s a racial epithet used only to disparage. It’s not a label that civil and thinking people ever apply to Native Americans.

But Washington team owner Dan Snyder sees it differently. In fact, he even used another N-word to make this point last year: “We will NEVER change the name of the team.”

We’ll see about that.

Earlier today, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office negated the team’s trademark registration. Snyder insists he will appeal the ruling. But if he loses that appeal, he loses the right to protect the trademark and with it most or all of the royalties the trademark generates. That’s sure to excite the other billionaire owners of the NFL.

What’s clear to any PR professional is that Dan missed an opportunity to fix this thing. He could have accepted the ruling and put his marketing agency to work on creating a new name and logo. When the fans complained, he could have blamed it on the Feds. But instead of using the Patent Office ruling as a way out of this disaster, Dan will fight on.

Two things are clear.

1) It is within the purview of the U.S. Patent and Trademark office to deregister the trademark. Synder’s lawyers must now convince a court that the term “redskin” isn’t disparaging.

From the Washington Post:

Federal trademark law does not permit registration of trademarks that “may disparage” individuals or groups or “bring them into contempt or disrepute.” The ruling pertains to six different trademarks associated with the team, each containing the word “Redskin.”

2) The team’s ongoing campaign to maintain the name and defend it as honoring American Indians is ethically indefensible under any moral theory known to man. There is no ethical dilemma here. Snyder’s position is morally wrong.

Smart PR counsel would have urged Dan to use today’s ruling as a resolution to this long and messy affair. But arrogant billionaires love to fight City Hall. That’s just the way it is.

Here’s hoping the good guys win this one.

The Great Internship Scam

It’s May 15, and most juniors and seniors in my program are settling in at their summer internships. If past is prologue, more than 85% of our PR majors are earning a paycheck at or above $8 an hour. Most of these interns also are earning 1 academic credit for the internship and paying around $500 for that credit.

Lots of students at my university and elsewhere aren’t so lucky. You see, a lot of schools and departments require 3 credits for an internship or practicum. So at my place, the cost could rise to around $1,500. For students enrolled in private schools, the price for internship credit may be double and even triple that number, as private schools earn no state subsidies.

I’ve spoken with students who’ve paid upwards of $4,000 for the privilege of earning academic credit for their internships.

The value of academic internship credit is dubious at best. It generally means a faculty member or administrator reads the students’ internship reports and collects a standard evaluation form at the end of the semester. In some disciplines, students receive some assistance in finding internships. In mine, not so much, since our faculty members are pretty well connected to the profession.

Point is, most schools collect a lot of money from interns and do little to earn it.

Now, imagine you’re a student who isn’t paid for a 15-week summer internship. After all, about 50% of U.S. college interns work for free (depending on which survey you believe). At $10/hour, 40 hours a week, that’s $6,000 you DIDN’T earn. Now, if you’re also required to pay for internship credits — average 3 credits per internship, which is typical — add another $1,200 – $1,500 for public institutions, $2,500 – $4,000 for the privates.

We’re talking serious money here. If you add the lost pay and the academic fees, it’s conceivable that an intern from a private school could finish the summer as much as $10,000 in the hole. And that doesn’t account for room and board at the internship site. Add another $3,000 — more if you’re in a high-cost city.

Employers know that demand for internships far outstrips the supply, so many choose not to pay students for their work. The schools pile on, often requiring that students compete internships for credit, offering little for the tuition dollars they collect.

In the headline I label this internship system a scam, and that’s probably unfair. After all, most scams are illegal, and most victims of scams don’t know they’re being flimflammed. This system is above board. The costs aren’t hidden, just exorbitant.

I won’t get into the debate over paid vs. unpaid internships today. I’ve covered that ground before. Besides, with a little good fortune and a sympathetic judge or two, maybe the courts will settle the debate over internship pay in next year or two. The battle lines are being draw as I write this post.

It’s time for colleges and universities to stop charging their interns for services that aren’t being delivered. And it’s time for those who employ interns to do so legally — by issuing a paycheck.

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If you care about this topic, read this column by a journalism student at a large Midwestern university where I sometimes hang out. This guy got off cheap, with just $500 in fees. But his message is worth its weight in gold.

A final word on the Kent State ‘secret search’

As a hardcore utilitarian, I can’t complain much about Kent State’s decision to conduct its presidential search in secret. After all, utilitarians focus on consequences and outcomes — the greatest good for the greatest number. When this “secret search” ended, the outcome was a good one. We like this new president and wish her good fortune.

Nevertheless, I was compelled to criticize the process because it violated the university’s own policies on transparency and likely violated the Ohio open-records laws. The end does not justify the means. Continue reading

Kent State J-faculty joins protest over ‘secret search’

I’m pleased to join my colleagues in a high-profile protest against the secret presidential search conducted at Kent State over the past year. This full page ad will run in tomorrow’s Daily Kent Stater. My original post on the topic appeared April 1.

There’s a simple PR lesson in this case: The business of public institutions is public. Next to the ad I’ve posted links to some local news coverage from earlier today.

(Click to enlarge the visual.)

StaterAd2Akron Beacon Journal April 21

Daily Kent Stater Editorial

Poynter Institute story

A conference that was too good to tweet #YouToo2014

YouTooLogo2Yesterday I attended the 7th Annual YouToo Social Media Conference at Kent State — right down the hall from my office. The organizers, as always, did A+ work in attracting great presenters who focused on important and timely topics. I won’t offer individual shout-outs here, as I would surely leave someone out. I will offer a special thanks to our two keynoters, Andrea Weckerle and Danny Brown. Continue reading

The Secret Society of Kent State


Update 4/13/14: Latest news story reveals a tale that’s turning downright Nixonian, including shredding of documents that belong in the public domain. I’m embarrassed that so few within the KSU community are going public with their outrage and just as troubled that I must.

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At Kent State, we kinda wish the last few weeks were an April Fool’s Day joke. Four times since March 12, our university has been in the headlines, each time owing to the administration’s failure to comply with public-records law.

Why all the secrecy? That’s what reporters from the Akron Beacon Journal have been asking for months. After all, Kent State is state-supported institution, which means we’re not exempt from sunshine laws. Like it or not, our business is the public’s business. Continue reading

Will Elk Creek spill trigger change? Color me skeptical

In a world where justice truly mattered, the Elk Creek chemical spill last week would be labeled a “triggering event.” It would first trigger indignation — and it has. But after the WVWelcomeindignation, it would lead to much-needed change to a system that is ineffective and corrupt. Continue reading