Schools must help bridge gap between comms and business

I recently joined 30 colleagues from the academic, agency, and corporate worlds for a symposium co-sponsored by the Arthur W. Page Society and the Institute for Public Relations, groups on which I serve as a trustee. The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College hosted the event for the third year.

I recently joined 30 colleagues from the academic, agency, and corporate worlds for a symposium co-sponsored by the Arthur W. Page Society and the Institute for Public Relations, groups on which I serve as a trustee. The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College hosted the event for the third year

The event focused almost entirely on the white paper recently published by the Page Society, The Authentic Enterprise. The paper considers major seismic shifts affecting business - globalization, stakeholder empowerment, and the rise of new media - and the specific implications of these forces on corporate communicators.

While much discussion centered, as one would expect, on the notion of authenticity, a great deal of the dialogue also focused on the concept of the "enterprise."

What makes this symposium unique is that it mixes those who teach communications in a business school environment with those who teach the discipline in more
traditional schools of journalism and communications.

From the discussions over two and a half days, it became clear that business school students - both undergraduate and graduate - hold a growing appreciation that in order to succeed they need a better understanding of the communication discipline. By the same token, more and more communications students are being advised that to succeed in the corporate communications profession, they need to study business fundamentals as an integral part of their college experience.

Despite this recognition, our academic institutions continue to struggle to keep pace with the rapid changes in the world of corporate communications. While silos exist in all organizations, the academy's versions often are particularly rigid combined with a glacial pace of change. For example, in many institutions seats prioritized for business majors and minors effectively prevent communications students from enrolling in business school courses. In many cases, prerequisite requirements make it difficult for a communications major to select many classes that teach marketing, economics, or accounting principles.

At the symposium, several attendees pointed to strategies they use to counter these realities. One communications school is offering its own business fundamentals classes to communications majors by hiring adjunct professors from other institutions, thus circumventing the business school blockade.

Many universities now strongly advise students to minor in business, making it easier to enroll in needed classes that will better prepare them for corporate positions.

Whatever the strategies used, the sooner students learn to appreciate the complexity of business enterprises, the more authentic they will become as counselors.

Those enlightened academic institutions that find new ways to facilitate this learning deserve our thanks.

Tom Martin is an executive-in-residence, Department of Communication, The College of Charleston. He also serves as a senior counselor for Feldman & Partners. He can be reached at martintr@cofc.edu.

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