Wall Street fallout reinforces the need for business education in PR

In these perilous times, a CEO really needs a good friend. With Wall Street firms finally paying penance for their risky investments, CEOs are fretting about how the reverberations will affect their own organizations. This should surprise no one.

In these perilous times, a CEO really needs a good friend. With Wall Street firms finally paying penance for their risky investments, CEOs are fretting about how the reverberations will affect their own organizations. This should surprise no one. And as PRWeek pointed out in last week's editorial, the fear is not limited to firms specifically involved in financial services or those now being bailed out by the government.

Since CEOs are not inherently gifted with the ability to understand all complex market machinations, what direction to take, and how to respond, they will need help.

In a vacuum, the obvious choice for a CEO's most trusted advisor would be a PR pro. This person would immediately grasp the financial environment, understand what various stakeholders are looking for in terms of reassurance, and know how to effectively communicate a company's positioning, tone, and response.

I am happy to report utmost confidence in a majority of the profession's ability to handle the second and third situations. But it is an overall industry concern with the first that is impacting the level and scope of work that could be done. It is cause for much disappointment.

The average PR pro is still not as nearly well-versed in the financial markets as he or she should or could be. I tried to make this point by writing a short blog post about how times like these reinforce PRWeek's repeated refrain: Communications pros should, at the least, take business courses in college; at the most, contemplate a MBA.

This attracted some comments from our readers who disagreed with my contention, arguing that those with MBAs got us into this mess. That might be true, but it's not the point. Chief communications officers – those who got to their positions by grasping these complex issues – tell us that their subordinates and the junior agency pros who work on day-to-day issues on their account are rarely at the level required to engage the C-suite on overall business issues. Some agency leaders confide that their staffers are intelligent, dedicated, and hard-working, but could use more than just a primer on the business of business. When I ask PR students who among them are taking business courses, only one or two in a group of 10 meekly raise their hands and are relieved when I tell them they've made a wise choice.

It's never too late for PR pros already in the real world to take a night class, ask for tutelage from the financial services pro-turned-colleague, or study up on the issues of the day. But the real work ahead for the industry is to continue mentoring the next generation of PR pros to understand the business environment. For all the talk I hear about how agencies and corporations are undergoing comprehensive digital boot camps, I rarely hear about how organizations are bringing all of their employees up to speed on financial issues. I – and I'm sure the industry – would like to hear more about that.

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