Business Schools See the Power of PR, Add it to MBA Programs

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The Public Relations Society of America, the world’s largest organization of communications professionals, has teamed up with five business colleges to pilot a course that will teach MBA students the rudiments of public relations beginning in the 2012-13 school year.

PRSA initiated the partnership following a study it conducted which showed that 80 percent of business colleges offer no instruction in public relations. A PRSA survey of hundreds of business leaders revealed that most believe public relations is an important part of the marketing mix and an essential skill for future business leaders.

Prominence of PR

The pilot program is a tip of the hat to the rising prominence of public relations in most organizations. The goal is to gradually expand the program to other schools in the coming years.

“MBAs fundamentally lack an understanding of communications,” Joseph Cohen, chair of PRSA’s MBA initiative, tells eFinancialCareers. “This is an area that has become increasingly important. Social media has hastened the news cycle. Socially crippling news could be spread virally.”

Trust has gone down

“More people pay attention now to what goes on in business,” adds Paul Argenti, a professor of corporate communications at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, one of the partner schools. “There’s more information out there about business and there’s more interest in business. The amount of trust people have in businesses has gone down as a result of the financial crisis and because of irresponsible behavior on the part of some corporations.”

In addition to Dartmouth, the other schools are Northwestern University, the University of Maryland, Quinnipiac College and the University of Texas El Paso.

PRSA officials say they intentionally picked a diverse mix of colleges.

PR should be taught

“The idea is to show that public relations should be taught in a range of MBA programs,” says Cohen, a senior vice president at MWW, an independent public relations firm. “What all these schools have in common is that they are best in class.”

Some of the colleges already offer courses in public relations or incorporate elements of it in their core courses. Dartmouth has offered a corporate communications course as an elective for MBA students for more than 30 years and the other schools will use that course’s syllabus as a guide for shaping their curriculum.

Students show favorable response

Officials at many of the colleges say that so far response from the students has been favorable.

We have 20 students, which is a very good number for us,” says Ken White, assistant dean of marketing and communications at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, who will be teaching the course in the fall. “I was somewhat surprised. I thought I would have to go out and sell the course to the students. I didn’t have to.”

Laura Uribarri, an associate dean in charge of the graduate business program at UTEP, says UTEP has offered a required corporate communications course for executive MBA students for two years. As a result of this partnership, she says, the course will be offered to all MBA students beginning in spring 2013. She says the course will be particularly helpful because the college is in a border town.

“Many of our students either live in Mexico and work in the United States or vice versa,” she says. “A unique aspect will be to look at the transnational aspect of corporate communication.”