For Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, working in the PR industry became a fortuitous accident when as a young airman in the U.S. Air Force he was asked to boost business for the audiovisual library.
This request ended up launching Hazlett on a PR career path spanning 35-plus years working with the federal government and non-profit organizations followed by 10 years of experience as a college professor for undergraduate and graduate students. Today, Hazlett is an associate professor of communication at Curry College in Milton and a lecturer in communications at Regis College in Weston.
Hazlett shared the ins and outs of his career path with PRSA Boston as well as some helpful lessons for young PR pros that he wished he knew when embarking on his professional trek.
PRSA Boston:What was your first job in the industry? How did you end up in your current position?
Kirk Hazlett: My first “official” job in PR was as a public affairs intern working with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command in Virginia. But I actually “accidentally” fell into PR with my first stateside assignment in the U.S. Air Force seven years earlier.
I was asked to “do whatever you can” to increase business for the audiovisual library to which I was assigned. Didn’t really realize what I was doing, but I wrote an article for our base newspaper promoting our services, the variety of training and entertainment films we had available for loan, and our knowledgeable staff of audiovisual experts. The day after the article appeared in the newspaper, we came to work to find people waiting at the door for us to open… had never happened before according to my supervisor! Business skyrocketed!
Today, I am a full-time associate professor of undergraduate communication/public relations at Curry College and part-time lecturer in Regis College’s graduate Organizational and Professional Communication area.
How did I wind up teaching? Simple! I got fired from my job as marketing and communications director for a Boston-based trade association!
After that, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. I was in my mid-50s and wanted to plan the move carefully.
Then, my phone rang, and a friend at Emerson College in Boston persuaded me to interview for a part-time graduate teaching gig. Shortly after, my phone rang again and it was the chair of the communication department at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater asking if I would be interested in a part-time undergrad position. Next, it was onto Stonehill College in Easton, then Curry College, and then Regis College.
Curry subsequently offered me a full-time opportunity to teach and to revitalize their public relations concentration. Ten-plus years later and having the time of my life!
PRSA Boston: What do you love most about being in PR?
Kirk Hazlett: The opportunity to take a challenge faced by a client or employer and help identify ways in which to overcome that challenge, regain the public’s trust (or build initial awareness), and contribute to the success of that particular organization. I love “fixing stuff.”
PRSA Boston: What has been a memorable PR experience (good or bad/embarrassing) that turned into the most valuable learning experience? Please explain. What did you learn from this experience?
Kirk Hazlett: In the mid-1980s, I took a PR specialist position with the former Honeywell Electro-Optics division in Lexington after having spent 15 years with the federal government (U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army). Two months into this new position, the company underwent an employee layoff and a drug bust, simultaneously.
This experience taught me the value and importance of honest, forthright communication with both internal and external audiences. In retrospect, regarding the layoffs, we really didn’t do a very good job of helping employees understand what was going on and there were some very hurt feelings as a result.
The concurrent drug bust taught me the reality of crisis communications and the amazing speed with which information spreads to the media and elsewhere.
PRSA Boston: What are some of the biggest changes within the industry that occurred throughout your career?
Kirk Hazlett: When I was in my PR intern position with the Army, a marvelous new device was introduced that enabled us to transmit printed documents anywhere in the world with a telephone – the FAX machine.
Flash-forward a quarter of a century with the introduction of the Internet and subsequent evolution of social media with both virtually erasing the event occurrence-public awareness timelag and exponentially increasing the demand that we, as PR professionals charged with protecting our clients’ or employer’s reputation, be “on” 24/7.
PRSA Boston: What do you think the future holds for the PR industry and its professionals?
Kirk Hazlett: The PR profession, and we as PR professionals, will continue to face skepticism regarding our ethical practices and professionalism. We will be challenged to defend our actions in the court of public opinion on a global level and to counter arguments that we are not truly working on the public’s behalf.
At the same time, though, I believe that we, as the organization’s or client’s communication counsel, will find greater acceptance of our rightful and logical seat at the “management table.”
PRSA Boston: What is the number-one recommendation you would give to new PR professionals?
Kirk Hazlett: Embrace your chosen profession and believe with all your heart that you can do great things. There are others, myself included, who are committed to helping you succeed.
PRSA Boston: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Kirk Hazlett: If I could go back in time to my high school graduation and change anything about the way in which my life story has played out, I wouldn’t change a thing!
Know a PRSA Boston veteran who can provide some useful insights and tips to younger PR professionals in our PR industry veterans Q&A? Email Franceen Shaughnessy at email@example.com.