Sandra Ericson|Jul 2, 2012

Kudos to the Public Relations Society of America for taking a small but significant step forward for the public relations field. The organization recently announced a pilot program aimed at advancing PR instruction in MBA programs.

It is designed to help MBA students have a better understanding of strategic corporate communication and reputation management, as well as the methodology and value behind it.

At the Silver Anvil awards a few weeks ago, PRSA announced the five top MBA programs participating in the pilot program: Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business (the world’s best MBA program according to the Economist); University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business; Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management; Quinnipiac University’s School of Business; and University of Texas at El Paso’s College of Business Administration (a top graduate school for Hispanics according to HispanicBusiness).

With the involvement of these schools, PRSA’s initiative not only helps MBA students be better prepared for potential careers in public relations, but also lays the groundwork for future CFOs, CMOs and CEOs of major corporations to appropriately validate public relations not just in the marketing mix, but as it relates to business best practices.

From supply chain management to human resources, most MBA students have access to a wide array of courses to prepare them for a variety of business positions, yet a 2011 study commissioned by PRSA showed business leaders viewed recent MBA graduates as being underprepared in strategic communication and reputation management.

This is further fueled by the belief that MBA programs lack sufficient emphasis in teaching these skills. For those of us who’ve had to explain the basics of public relations to those beyond the marketing department (and often to those outside of the PR field in the marketing department), it’s not a surprising statistic.

The PRSA program is not just critical to PR professionals trying to earn our keep. In the age of social media, blunders big and small mean astronomical repercussions for businesses – think sinking stock prices (Carnival after the Costa Concordia disaster), huge customer losses (Netflix) and even the loss of a job (BP’s Tony Hayward).

Bad news now travels faster than ever before, and there is often no time to get the C-suite up to speed on the basics of reputation management and crisis communications strategies. A baseline level of communications knowledge should be table stakes to any executive. Perhaps that can start to happen with this program.

The five schools participating in the pilot now have the task of taking the turnkey public relations courses they’ve integrated into their curriculum, identifying the best subject matter and teaching methods to share with other schools.

I applaud these pioneers and the PRSA committee that worked to put it together, and I look forward to a time when an MBA student doesn’t have to ask about the difference between advertising and public relations.


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