Might business schools (finally) care about public relations?

I have been asked by the Arthur Page Society to head a subcommittee about PR and Business Schools, which has me reflecting upon my time spent earning my MBA.

I have been asked by the Arthur Page Society to head a subcommittee about PR and Business Schools, which has me reflecting upon my time spent earning my MBA. When I attended Columbia about 10 years ago, no one in my class knew what PR was, nor were there any students in my class who had experience in the field or had any intention of pursing a job in the field. And, there was no mention of the craft in any of the curriculum – full stop. It was discouraging.

Perhaps even more discouraging was that the elite headhunters in our business told me that having an MBA would not earn you more money or be a factor for a top communications post. Despite this, I have been a big advocate for PR professionals getting MBAs and about 30 percent of our firm has earned one. I am also proud to say that in the last few years we've had a few of our folks accepted to the top business schools in the country (shout out to Sarah Freeman for her recent acceptance to Chicago).

So the question is, have business schools changed their attitude toward the MBA? Could they possibly now be interested in injecting reputation management, crisis communications or any of the other PR disciplines so important to boards and CEOs into the curriculum? Or, are they sitting in the same spot as 10 years ago when their constituents (MBA students primarily headed for investment banking and consulting jobs) actually now recognize they might need to understand communications and reputation management. This is going to be my quest … to find out.

I have a few theories of my own:

1. The crisis in corporate trust which was hatched thanks to Enron and WorldCom changed the game. Every board room woke up to the value of reputation. This may have been the start of MBA schools thinking first about ethics, but next about communications.

2. The financial crisis has created a whole new Wall Street where private equity firms, hedge funds and investment banks all have PR firms on-board. The CEOs and managing directors of these firms all understand the importance of reputation, and as much as they would like to, can no longer stay hidden from the world. For the most part, they understand that they need to participate in the telling of their stories to the world and have relationships with influencers.

3. For these reasons above, my hunch is that deans can be convinced that there is a skill gap in what they are teaching our future leaders. And, perhaps more importantly, there is a gaping hole in their curriculum.

I don't know if I am right to think 10 years after my graduation that business schools might be ready to inject PR into the classroom. I am going to try to find out with the committee at the Page Society. What I worry more about is that I don't see the appetite for investment on the agency or corporate side for putting PR folks through business school. This, I think is a major mistake. At CJP, we support our folks looking to earn the MBA. We strongly believe you must learn the “language of business” to really understand our client companies. There is no doubt you learn our profession in the trenches, but the ability to consult and bring the confidence necessary to lead clients is dramatically enhanced via the MBA process.

Jen Prosek is managing partner at CJP Communications.

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