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
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
"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
"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
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
In thinking about strategy, Argenti points to the outcry over Nike's
overseas labor practices, a case he's written and spoken about
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
"How can you be so good with one constituency and so bad with
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
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
1990-1995: Visiting professor (summers), Helsinki School of Economics