Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Missing Link in B-Schools

For years, the public relations profession has been suffering from an educational void in the nation’s graduate business schools, where CEOs and other future business leaders are trained. But could there be some light at the end of the tunnel? Maybe.


Earlier this month, businessweek.com wrote about recent research commissioned by the Public Relations Society of America, which found that 98 percent of the 204 U.S. business leaders polled believe that business schools need to incorporate instruction on corporate communication and reputation management into the MBA curriculum. Ninety-four percent of executives believe that top management needs additional training in core communications disciplines. Only 40 percent of the respondents, the article said, rated their recent MBA hires as “extremely strong” at responding to crisis and building and protecting company credibility.

Spearheaded by PRSA, Paul Argenti, communications professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, a pioneer in this area, will lead a pilot program of four other graduate business schools in 2012-13 to develop a public relations curriculum for coursework consideration. The hope, the story says, is that the program will be incorporated into the curricula of these schools for the 2013-14 academic year.

The only hitch is that the four other schools have not yet been selected, and there is no indication of who they might be or whether the interest that has obviously been missing for so long finally exists.

Hopefully Argenti’s experience will be persuasive. He says that, in surveys of Tuck’s MBAs on which courses were the most important in terms of what they actually use on the job, after graduation, corporate communications always ranks #1 or 2.

All of this makes me hark back to May 2007, when I gave an acceptance speech on this issue following my selection to receive the PRSA-NY John Hill Award for Distinguished Achievement. After decrying the fact that not one of the top five business schools taught strategic communications, and that in today’s internet world businesses only exist via public consent, I made a suggestion that I thought would help bring about change.

I urged PRSA to organize corporate communications heads of leading Fortune 100 companies to motivate their CEOs to encourage action in the nation’s business schools. After all, money speaks. If the CEO of a Fortune 100 company calls the Dean of Harvard or M.I.T.’s graduate school of business, he or she will listen. But this will not happen unless we, as communicators, push such action.

If we do this on a coordinated basis, supported by the proof of need shown in the survey cited above plus Paul Argenti’s initiative, this time (after previous tries) the bell should ring. And hopefully the schools by now finally recognize that there is a whole new set of rules to play by … and it’s in their self-interest to play the economics to their benefit.

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