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Making the ‘Business Case for PR’ with Tomorrow’s Leaders

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending my first Leadership Rally as a national board member of PRSA. A common topic of discussion was the incredible opportunities that now lie before our industry.

As Facebook and Audi join BP and Toyota in the lineup of venerable companies that have seen their brands tarnished in this volatile media environment, the value that PR offers has perhaps never been more evident. As the media landscape continues to transform and the impact of traditional advertising and marketing erode, our industry has an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate the role that PR can play in building trust and relevance for major brands and companies.

The reality is that despite the opportunities that stand before us — and the significant gains that have been achieved in reinforcing PR as a critical business function — there are still too many business leaders who fail to appreciate the value and strategic role of PR in safeguarding trust, relevancy and reputation and protecting brand value. To many decision-makers, PR remains a “nice-to-have” in the marketing mix.

A 2010 study conducted by Ball State University sheds light on what may be a root cause of the problem. The study, which analyzed MBA coursework at 40 universities, found that PR is absent in most programs. In B-school classrooms, where future top executives are building a foundation of knowledge that will shape their philosophy on business strategy, PR is almost completely invisible.

It’s no wonder that MBAs enter the workforce with a general lack of understanding of PR and that too many believe our industry provides marginal value as a strategic business function.

Most PR practitioners will attest that communications is most effective if it is applied during a time when people are still shaping opinions. This rationale forms the basis of the PRSA MBA Initiative, an industry-wide effort, spearheaded by PRSA, to help educate the business leaders of tomorrow on the Business Case for PR™.

To be clear, the purpose of the MBA Initiative isn’t to urge PR practitioners to pursue business-school degrees, or to transplant graduate PR studies within management schools. Rather, it is an advocacy effort to lobby for the basics of PR to be taught in MBA curricula so that B-School students — our future managers, clients and colleagues — learn an appreciation of the value of PR and the strategic role it should play in an organization.

PRSA currently is working alongside Paul Argenti of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth University to craft the framework for an MBA-level strategic communications course that will be implemented nationwide over the next three years. The effort has already been covered by The Financial Times and Bloomberg Businessweek.

We have no illusions of the complex and politically-charged environments that can sometimes exist in academia. Our committee, co-chaired by Ray Crockett, APR, Fellow PRSA, and Anthony D’Angelo, APR, Fellow PRSA, is crafting a program that is modifiable and can be taught in multiple formats. It will be rolled out in a careful, controlled manner to help ensure successful implementation.

In this transformative media landscape, where trust is scarce and reputations are shattered in nanoseconds, the window of opportunity to showcase the strategic value of PR stands wide open. The time is now for us to step forward and take action in advocating for our profession — and where better to begin in educating corporate America than in the classroom.

Joseph Cohen, APR, serves on the PRSA Board of Directors and is also a senior vice president at MWW Group, where he helps oversee a number of the company’s top consumer lifestyle marketing accounts.

3 Comments

  • Thanks for the post, Joe! It was nice meeting you at Rally. I look forward to seeing how the MBA initiative takes shape. It’s certainly a worthwhile venture!

  • This is a great effort and you are aligned with someone in Paul Argenti who teaches corporate communications at one of the best business schools.  However, while you are introducing business concepts to the future leaders, I really would urge PRSA to also look at introducing business concepts to future communications leaders.  As someone who was responsible for both marketing and communications at several major companies, I saw a huge gap in the understanding of business amongst many of the communications professionals. I also heard from a number of CEOs who complained about the lack of business acumen of communications people they knew. 

    I teach an MBA course in corporate brand and reputation management at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business.  We also have the only center for corporate reputation management at an academic institution in the U.S.  At the underrand level, we have a certificate in brand and reputation management that requires that business students take public relations.  While the PR program sends a lot of students to our marketing courses, they do not require business courses for their students.

    I have lectured at communications programs and have been shocked by how little the average communications student, even at top schools, understands about finance, accounting, marketing and management.  It is important that executives understand communications, but It is tough to counsel an executive when one cannot speak their language.  

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