- Public Relations
I took away two insights from my short visit to the AEJMC convention in Boston last week. I was there at the invitation of Page Society member Maria Russell of Syracuse University to present the Page Society's Trust Report to the Public Relations Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, and preceded a panel of academics and practitioners addressing current trends in Corporate Social Responsibility.
1. Despite years of effort by the Page Society to emphasize the management policy role of corporate communication, undergraduate communication schools are still focused largely on training future public relations professionals in the tactics of communication – media relations, press-release writing, and the like. This is in direct response, Page Society member Dennis Wilcox of San Jose State University argued during our Boston session, to the reality that PR firms and corporate communication departments still value these skills more highly than they do business acumen and leadership skills.
2. The presence of public relations education in what are largely journalism schools, rather than in business schools, gives the impression both to PR students and to business students that public relations is not a business discipline. The centrality of corporate communication to the success of the modern global enterprise, as argued in The Authentic Enterprise, is not understood as widely as it would be if public relations was taught as a management discipline in business schools. Don Wright of Boston University, who also attended the Boston conference, has made this point repeatedly over the years.
There are a few business schools where students are exposed to communication courses taught by communications professors, notably Tuck (Paul Argenti), Harvard (Stephen Greyser), Mendoza (Jim O'Rourke), Darden (Jim Rubin), Stern (Irv Schenlker) and Anderson (Janis Foreman) – Page Society members, all. However, discussions at the annual Tuck Symposium on Communication, cosponsored by the Page Society and the Institute for Public Relations, have revealed a disturbing separation between business and communication schools, where most MBA students have no exposure to communication and most PR students don't study business. In many cases, it's almost impossible for PR students to take business courses. The Tuck Symposium is one venue where efforts are being made to bridge the gap between business and communication education and research.
One place (I'm sure there are more) where there is a close working relationship between the business and communication schools is at Baruch College. The MA in Corporate Communication program (disclosure – I serve on the advisory board there), directed by Page Society member Michael Goodman, and the Zicklin School of Business often sponsor joint programs. Corporate Communication MA candidates are advised on the need for business acumen in their initial orientation, and they are offered Executive Development Workshops in Finance, Economics, Accounting and Strategic Decision-making.
Another is Syracuse, where the Master of Science in Communications Management for midcareer professionals is an interdisciplinary program that brings together courses in public relations (The Newhouse School), business and management (The Whitman School) and leadership (The Maxwell School).
Small steps, these, but every one counts. The journey to making corporate communication a leading strategic management discipline is a long one.
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