Advocacy Thought Leadership

Educating MBAs on the Strategic Value of PR

It’s a fact: the PR discipline is all but invisible within most MBA programs.

At the business-school level, where many future leaders are shaping their fundamental views on business and marketing, PR barely gets a mention. More specifically, in nearly 80 percent of MBA programs, students do not receive any education or skills training on the strategic value of PR, the critical role that it plays in protecting brand reputation and its vital function within the marketing mix [1].

It’s no wonder that as communications practitioners, we are forced to exert so much time and energy educating the C-suite on the strategic role of PR. In addition to the challenge this poses to enhancing public relations’ value in the marketplace, the reality is that students are graduating from MBA programs without learning about an essential tool in the brand-marketing arsenal.

We’re living in an era when building and protecting brand trust and relevance is becoming increasingly challenging – and when corporate reputations can be crippled in seconds by an ill-advised Tweet or spokesperson gaffe that goes viral.

Not understanding the role or value of PR leaves future MBAs ill-prepared to deal with the challenges (and seize upon some of the opportunities) in today’s transformative business and media environment.

The PRSA Business Leaders Survey

In October, PRSA teamed with Kelton Research to survey 204 senior executives (vice president and above across a range of industries). The survey, which was funded by MWW Group, yielded the following insights (view detailed results here):

  • Only 4 in 10 senior executives find the skill sets of recently hired graduates to be extremely strong in the areas of building and protecting the company’s reputation (41 percent) and credibility (40 percent).
  • 9 in 10 business leaders admit executives need training in core communication disciplines.
  • 98 percent of respondents believe that business schools should incorporate instruction on corp. comm. and reputation mgmt strategy into MBA curricula.
  • 93 percent believe PR is just as important to their companies as other forms of communication, including advertising and marketing.

Fortunately, our industry is taking a major step in answering this need. Led by PRSA, the leading entities in the communications industry today announced the roll-out of the MBA Initiative, a multi-year industry-wide effort to advocate the importance and value of including in MBA curricula a broad understanding of the strategic business value and tools of public relations. (See this exclusive report in Bloomberg Businessweek for further details.)

Working in tandem with Paul Argenti, professor of corporate reputation at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business (ranked by The Economist as the world’s best MBA program), PRSA developed a turn-key, MBA-level PR course to provide MBA students with an understanding of the strategic value of public relations and the importance of reputation management in strengthening brand trust and relevance.

To help increase its likelihood of adoption, the modifiable course is being offered in three versions: full-semester, mini-mester and seminar.

The roll-out of PRSA’s MBA Initiative is a critical milestone for the public relations industry. As the leading entities in our industry work in concert to advance its adoption, it is important to understand exactly what the MBA Initiative has been designed to accomplish:

MBA Initiative — What It Is

  • Program designed to showcase the value of strategic public relations to future organizational leaders.
  • Long-term advocacy effort aimed at future CEOs so they will appreciate their own responsibilities in public relations/reputation management, and the duties of the PR practitioners who work for them.

MBA Initiative — What it Isn’t

  • Continuing education program for students who already plan to work in public relations.
  • Campaign urging schools to make PR a business major.
  • Course to teach tactical PR skills to MBA students.

Now is a transformative time for our industry. As the digital revolution continues to keep the communications landscape in a constant state of evolution, the role of PR has never been more critical.

As with anything in life, respect does not come easy — we will need to work for it.  PRSA will soon be calling upon its membership to lobby their alma matter to infuse PR coursework into their MBA curricula. Your support and advocacy will be essential as we take this critical step to elevate the role of our profession and educate the next generation of business leaders on the strategic value of PR.

Joseph Cohen, APR, is a member of the PRSA National Board of Directors, and a senior vice president of consumer marketing at MWW Group.

[1] Research conducted in 2010 by Ball State University across 40 schools found that MBA curricula were lacking when it came to the subject of PR, with 23 percent of all schools offering a “strategic communications” or a “marketing communications” class.

About the author

Joe Cohen, APR

1 Comment

  • If you can’t
    beat ’em, join ’em: I and several of my coworkers at Hill+Knowlton Strategies
    have MBAs. Being part of the classroom conversation is another way to bring the
    value and relevance of public relations into the MBA curriculum. In my business
    school’s marketing classes, public relations was a sidebar topic. History
    suggests that a better understanding of public relations, and its relevance to
    better C-suite decisions, would have a positive impact on corporate bottom

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