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Why Business Students Should Learn Strategic Communications

Warren Buffett famously said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

With that sage advice, it comes as a surprise that only six percent of MBA programs require any communications courses. Most of those are public speaking or interpersonal classes rather than strategic communications and reputation management courses, according to on-going research by Kathleen Donohue Rennie, PhD, APR, Fellow PRSA, an associate professor at New Jersey City University, and Kristie Byrum, PhD, APR, Fellow PRSA, an assistant professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. They presented this research during a panel discussion at the Institute for Public Relations’ (IPR) Bridge Conference in Washington, D.C.

“You learn the vernacular of your industry, build your career and arrive in the C-Suite to discover you need communications skills — not marketing and public relations tactics, but strategic communications and reputation management,” said panelist Lynn Costantini, Ph.D., manager of cybersecurity compliance and oversight at the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. “This knowledge builds my value as a chief information officer.”

While the PRSA MBA/Business Program is currently focused on partnering with business schools, the need for strategic communications also affects CEOs, chief information officers, chief financial officers, engineers, cyber chiefs, medical doctors and other corporate and nonprofit leaders.

“Our research uncovered that we lack a common taxonomy for teaching strategic communication to graduate students in disciplines beyond public relations and communications,” said Byrum, committee research chair at PRSA’s MBA Program. “While an audit of course syllabi in the PRSA MBA Program highlighted the lack of a common course title, content is focused in a few essential areas, including strategic communication planning, reputation management and crisis communication. But content variety remains.”

“Reputation management drives student interest in the course,” said Rennie, co-chair of the MBA Program.
“The PRSA MBA Business School Program gives students the tools to understand and evaluate strategic communications and its impact on corporate reputation, along with the strategies to build trust and credibility with stakeholders.”

However, reputation management is more than a CEO responsibility. Fake news, cyber security, pandemic disease and natural disasters illustrate the demand for leaders who are skilled in strategic communications. There is a clear imperative for a multi-disciplinary approach to strategic communications, beginning with a new taxonomy.

Rennie and Byrum launched their “New Taxonomy for Strategic Communications Integration: A Model for Incorporating Public Relations Curriculum into Graduate Degree Programs” at the World Public Relations Forum in Oslo, Norway on April 22.

“The taxonomy provides guidance for those teaching strategic communications in multidisciplinary areas,” said Rennie. “We will continue our research with graduate students and faculty to test the taxonomy and accompanying rubrics so that we stay focused on the skills, knowledge, and abilities emerging leaders need in today’s challenging and reputation-focused, 24/7, socialized marketplace.”

For more information on PRSA’s MBA Program, click here.


Tracy Schario, APR, is co-chair of the PRSA MBA Program committee. She is a public affairs and media consultant based in Washington, D.C. She also teaches media relations and issues management at George Washington University and crisis communications at Trinity University. 

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