When I attended Columbia Business School about 10 years ago, no one in my class knew what corporate communications 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, or be a factor for a top communications post. Despite this, I have been a big advocate for communications professionals getting MBAs and about 30 percent of our firm has earned one.
Changing attitudes about the importance of communications for MBAs has been a major challenge, largely due to the fact that Deans have not been convinced that their students (who will become the corporate titans of tomorrow) need exposure to the curricula. Well Deans, think again. Of the 204 C-level respondents in a recent PRSA study (see Bloomberg Businessweek story), 98 percent said they believe that business schools need to incorporate instruction on these topics into the MBA curriculum, and 94 percent believe that top management needs additional training in core communication disciplines. Only 40 percent of the executives surveyed rated their recent MBA hires as “extremely strong" at responding to crisis and building and protecting company credibility. Now that's data even a Dean cannot ignore.
There have been a number of major events which have pushed communications from a “nice to have" to a “need to have" in business school curriculum. 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. Next, the financial crisis has created a whole new Wall Street (a mainstay of the MBA) 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.
Thanks to these trends and the newly released data, 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.
Ten years after my graduation, and for the first time, I am now convinced that business schools might be ready to inject PR into the classroom. 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. We must support our folks looking to earn the MBA. Communications professionals must learn the “language of business" to really understand our client companies or internal clients.
The effort to affect change at business schools is critical to our profession and the timing to affect change is now. We have a great deal of work ahead but I am hopeful that the business schools committee and the membership of the Arthur Page Society can have a real impact in the days and years ahead.
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