ANALYSIS: Profile - Paul Argenti: MBA teacher and comms strategypreacher

Paul Argenti heads a communications program at Dartmouth's Tuck

School of Business, which not only teaches students how to write and

speak, but actually addresses strategy. Thom Weidlich reports.



In April, when The Wall Street Journal named Dartmouth's Tuck School of

Business the country's best MBA program, it also ranked Tuck's

communications offering at number one. A big reason for that honor is

Paul Argenti, who heads up the communications program.



Most business schools treat communications like a distant cousin, often

teaching students little more than how to write releases and make

PowerPoint presentations. But the Hanover, NH-based school stresses

communications as part of a corporate strategy - Tuck is turning out

future business leaders with an appreciation of public relations.



"The way we teach communications is not 'you're going to be running a

communications department,' although there are students here who end up

doing that," Argenti says. "It's more 'you're a general manager and

here's a function you need to manage, and a very important one at that.'

If MBAs don't understand that there is a functional area called

corporate communications, we've got a real problem."



Colleagues agree. "We like the fact that he's training a generation of

MBAs who know enough about PR to be dangerous," says Clarke Caywood,

professor at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. "Most MBAs -

and it's the faculty's fault - have no knowledge of PR, but Paul's

students do." (A recent survey by the Council of PR Firms found that

only 9.5% of MBA programs require taking a strategic communications

class.)



The arc of Argenti's own career has followed, and influenced, that of

the profession itself. After earning a BA from Columbia and an MA from

Brandeis, and then abandoning his quest to become an English professor

("I was going to teach 18th-century literature. I was into Jonathan

Edwards' fire and brimstone sermons."), he taught writing and speaking

at Harvard Business School in the late 1970s. "That's how I got into

this," he explains.



Argenti then got his MBA from Columbia, where he studied marketing and

also taught communications. He accepted the job at Tuck in 1981, and

he's been there ever since.



He moved from teaching the tactics of communicating - speaking and

writing - to an increased focus on strategy. His main interest now is

corporate reputation and branding.



Argenti has written scads, including a leading textbook, and is a

frequent speaker and consultant. "I like the combination of being an

academic and being able to dabble in business," he says. "I have the

best of both worlds."



Argenti is a gregarious globetrotter whose wide interests and literature

background make him a bit of a Renaissance man (he cowrote an article

entitled "Should Business Schools Teach Aristotle?"). Several colleagues

believe he has been instrumental in pushing the thinking about

communications far beyond an individual's writing or speaking

ability.



"He was one of the first people to really theorize what the corporate

communications function as a business function should look like," says

James Rubin, who teaches at the University of Virginia's Darden

School.



"He was also one of the first people to realize that to be effective,

corporate communications had to be closely tied to corporate strategy

with the participation of major players in the company, preferably the

CEO."



Argenti says that his philosophy toward corporate communications does

indeed stress its strategic and centralized nature, as well as the idea

that it should be managed at a high level. "Reporting to a chief

administrative officer who's also in charge of janitors is not my idea

of the right approach," he says. "A lot of companies try to skirt that

by saying, 'Well, he or she really has a good relationship with the

CEO.' That immediately tells you that that person is not part of the

inner circle."



In thinking about strategy, Argenti points to the outcry over Nike's

overseas labor practices, a case he's written and spoken about

often.



Although the company obviously excelled at reaching consumers through

its ads, it did not consider the need for a strategy in dealing with the

labor accusations. "They just didn't think about it that way," he

says.



"How can you be so good with one constituency and so bad with

another?"



Argenti lays the blame for many companies' lack of respect for PR with

both communications and business schools. "Somewhere along the way,

communications schools need to teach more business, and business schools

need to teach more communications," he says, "because I don't think

businesses can afford to be without a strong communications leader."



Obviously, these are pitfalls that his own school strives to avoid.



With only 450 students and 45 full-time teachers, Tuck is small, but

prestigious. In addition to running the communications program (his wife

Mary Munter, who teaches the more tactical management communication, is

the other full-time professor), Argenti is also the faculty director of

the Tuck Leadership Forum. The forum is part of the MBA program's

first-year core curriculum that introduces students to the various

functions of which they need to have a working knowledge. It includes a

class on management and corporate communications.



With his widely used textbook, Argenti's influence extends far beyond

Dartmouth. In 1994, he published what he and the publisher say is the

first classroom book on the subject, Corporate Communication. He's

currently working on the third edition. He has also just finished

writing - with Janis Forman of the Anderson School at UCLA - a version

of the book aimed at corporate managers, called The Power of Corporate

Communications, to be published by McGraw-Hill next May. And if that's

not enough, he is currently doing a study for the Council of PR Firms on

how corporate PR departments should be organized to become more

strategic.



PAUL ARGENTI

1977-1979: Lecturer, Harvard Business School

1979-1981: Lecturer, Columbia Business School

1981-present: Professor, management and corporate communication,

Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, Hanover, NH

1989-1992: Visiting professor (spring terms), International University

of Japan

1990-1995: Visiting professor (summers), Helsinki School of Economics



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