ANALYSIS: PR Education - Will tomorrow’s CEOs have respect for PR?

What’s an easy way to instill respect for PR among the next generation. of business leaders? Require them to take communications courses to get their MBA. But as Ana Vargas discovers, most business schools offer only a cursory, optional introduction to PR, which faces the same prejudices in the academic world as it does in the business world.

What’s an easy way to instill respect for PR among the next generation. of business leaders? Require them to take communications courses to get their MBA. But as Ana Vargas discovers, most business schools offer only a cursory, optional introduction to PR, which faces the same prejudices in the academic world as it does in the business world.

What’s an easy way to instill respect for PR among the next

generation. of business leaders? Require them to take communications

courses to get their MBA. But as Ana Vargas discovers, most business

schools offer only a cursory, optional introduction to PR, which faces

the same prejudices in the academic world as it does in the business

world.





A meeting of upper management is going on behind closed doors. Glitches

in a new product that may cause a late release and a potential stock

dive are being discussed. A strategy finally gets hammered out. Everyone

has been consulted - everyone except the head of PR, who gets the news

two weeks later and is asked to do damage control.



Business schools have been trying to make this scenario look like a

relic from the Stone Age. In the last 20 years, most top business

schools have incorporated PR into their curricula. But a study of

business school professors conducted by the Arthur Page Society Research

Committee last November found that these communications courses are

still in need of some development.





The need for PR training



The 35 survey respondents recognized the need for communications

training, with 79% agreeing that every MBA program should offer a course

in corporate communications. In fact, well over half (65%) of the

respondents taught in a program offering a corporate communications

course. Top business schools at Dartmouth, Cornell, Harvard and MIT all

offer a corporate communications course.



At Notre Dame, first-year MBA students are required to take a management

communications course. Traditionally these courses covered writing for

business, presentation planning and speech writing. But in the last 20

years, programs began to include basics on crisis management,

communication with stakeholder groups and media relations.



’The nature of the job has changed. Higher management needs to be more

articulate and able to communicate with people who aren’t experts in the

field,’ says Charlotte Rosen, senior lecturer at Cornell’s Johnson

Graduate School of Management.



While not all of the nearly 600 US business schools offer specific

corporate communications courses, most include survey courses on PR

topics. A 1998 study by Melinda Knight, a lecturer at the University of

Rochester, revealed that 23 of the top 25 business schools named by

Business Week included communication in their curriculum. In addition to

writing and speaking, courses usually included communications strategy,

media relations, cross-cultural communication and managerial

communication with stakeholder groups.



But many feel that a quick PR primer for MBA students isn’t enough. Only

48% of professors surveyed in the Arthur Page study believed that all

MBA grads leave their programs with sensitivity to the issues and

processes of corporate communications.



The Arthur Page Society hopes to keep PR on the business school

agenda.



’PR programs have been perceived as bastard stepchildren in journalism

schools. We don’t want the same thing to happen in business schools

There’s a strong sense in the Page Society that we should work to keep

PR in the top schools,’ says Donald Wright, chair of the society’s

research committee and professor of communication at the University of

South Alabama.



The survey indicated that professors were usually satisfied with both

the support management communications programs were receiving from deans

and the financial backing of the universities.



However, it is unlikely that more advanced communications courses will

be standard requirements in the near future. As in most academic

circles, PR is sometimes looked down upon by the business community or

is seen as a publicity tool rather than a strategic one. Those same

employers who lock their PR teams out of high-level strategy meetings

are not demanding that new hires have corporate communication

training.



’Most business school faculty don’t see communications as essential,

because business programs are set up to teach students a focused area of

expertise,’ says Jim O’Rourke, associate professor of management at

Notre Dame.



The survey figures back O’Rourke’s contention, as only 52% felt that a

course on corporate communications should be required. ’Some students

have a lot more experience than others. Electives are preferable because

some students need this training more than others,’ adds Rosen.





The danger of a little knowledge



In addition, PR education for future corporate executives has also met

with some skepticism from PR pros themselves. While corporate pros see

the benefits of having a boss who understands the importance of PR

within the organizational structure, that same knowledge is a potential

problem.



’Having PR courses in business school is better than not having them.

The danger I see is business school grads thinking they know how to do

PR and making some dumb decisions,’ says Burke Stinson, senior public

relations director at AT&T.



But management communications professors counter that what they teach

MBA students is how to use their PR departments strategically, not how

to do PR. ’We look at corporate communication from a managerial point of

view,’ says Paul Argenti, professor of management communication at

Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. ’General managers don’t need to

know how to write the best press release. They are responsible for

day-to-day communication within the organization, so our focus is on

strategic training.’



Business school students, raised in a media-intensive society, are also

realizing the importance of PR 101. ’All MBAs should be required to know

the basics of corporate communications. I’ve seen more student interest,

and corporate communications has become one of our most popular

electives,’ says Mary Munter, professor of management communication at

Dartmouth.



But while communications has become an integrated part of most business

schools’ curricula, the scarcity of stand-alone courses shows a lack of

understanding as to the place of communication within an organization’s

structure.



Technical courses have been strongly developed, but other areas have

hardly been addressed. ’There hasn’t been a lot of progress in the last

15 years. Business schools have done a terrible job at teaching students

how to use communication as a strategic weapon,’ says Clarke Caywood,

chair of the integrated marketing communications program at Northwestern

University.



Notre Dame’s O’Rourke has created a team of professors and corporate

communications specialists that meet biannually to work on creating

better programs. But while communications is gaining respect in the

business world, it has yet to gain a prominent place within the business

school curriculum. ’The idea of an MBA program was to cut across many

areas to teach a range of tasks that managers have to deal with, but

communication has been ignored,’ argues Caywood. Until the value of PR

is better communicated to new generations of CEOs, CFOs and general

managers, there will be little incentive for change at business schools.



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