Amid the constant change in PR, one issue seems to stand head and shoulders above the rest: The pressure on PR execs to make a business case for marketing communications and convince the C-suite that PR activities can boost the top and bottom lines. There’s little debate that in the last few years PR has become more strategic. Gone are the days when PR reps were called in—after the campaign was fully developed—to write a few press releases and pitch reporters and editors to see if they would bite. PR managers and directors at both corporations and agencies are also taking pains to be more business savvy and speak in a language (read: numbers) that the executives at the top of the company will appreciate.
At the same time, the PR field still lacks executives who truly understand business imperatives and can demonstrate that expertise with, say, an MBA.
The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is now betting that more B-school students will be exposed to strategic communications and reputation management via the rollout of an MBA-Level Strategic Communications Course.
The rollout, announced earlier this month, builds on last year’s pilot program at five top B-schools, including the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. The three launch schools—Ohio State University, Syracuse University and the University of St. Thomas—will offer the course during the 2014-2015 academic year.
But let’s follow the PRSA initiative to a logical conclusion. What about those B-school graduates who are exposed to communications courses during their graduate program, and don’t want to take the typical path to a financial profession and are instead interested in a career in PR. How can the industry sell itself?
“It’s a golden opportunity for everybody who works in PR,” said Daniel Diermeier, the IBM Professor of Regulation and Competitive Practice in the Department of Managerial Economics and Decision Sciences and the Director of the Ford Motor Company Center for Global Citizenship at the Kellogg School of Management. “The more [the industry] can connect with people outside of the industry and connect [PR] with a business imperative, the better chance the industry has to seize the opportunity.”
Diermeier, author of “Reputation Rules: Strategies for Managing Your Company’s Most Valuable Asset” (McGraw-Hill), shared three recommendations on what the PR industry can do to enhance its appeal among B-school graduates.
1. Pay market rates. If you’re not paying market rates your brand or agency will simply not be able to compete effectively in the space.
2. PR job descriptions need to be suitable for B-school grads mulling a career in communications. “The PR function needs to be more closely integrated with a business purpose,” Diermeier said. “The more PR gets away from silos and the more we think about communication as integral to a company’s success, the more appealing the company will be to the MBA market.”
3. Define the PR discipline as more of a strategic role within the company. “You need to connect it with the enterprise,” Diermeier added. “How do we enhance trust with key stakeholders? How do we remove barriers to entering a new market rather than simply putting a PR script together?”
Diermeier stressed that while it’s a tall order, the ability to redefine the PR role—and make it more attractive to MBAs—is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility.
“It’s happened to other functions, such as human resources and IT, which have had to adapt to an enhanced strategic role,” he said. “Rather than focusing on specific skills, e.g. in dealing with computers, they’re now dealing with how to use data to support important business decisions.”
To attract newly minted MBAs, the PR industry needs to dramatically change the narrative about its business, according to Paul Argenti, professor of management and corporate communication at The Tuck School of Business.
The industry needs to “change the model,” Argenti said. “It needs to get smart people from a variety of places and train them; think more broadly about compensation and think about what’s going to be interesting work” for MBAs.
When it comes to attracting MBAs, half the battle may be communicators’ ability to properly define their brand.
It’s what ITT Corp. has been doing since the company in 2011 split into three separate entities.
Anthony D’Angelo, senior manager of communications at ITT Corp., said that the new ITT has very carefully defined its brand in a way that extends to the talent-acquisition market.
To help recruit and develop employees, ITT constructed a “career frameworks” system that spells out the key competencies that are sought in recruits, as well as the key experiences new employees will need to accumulate as they develop and the career stages they can pursue. PRN
Defining PR as a Career Option for MBAs
PR hiring managers: Do you think typical MBA graduates know what your department or agency really does? I didn’t think so. If we’d like B-school graduates to consider entering the profession, or at least value it after they assume other roles, the following PR career requirements should be defined for MBA-holders so they’re not discounting our field. An introductory conversation with B-school grads should include:
▶ Formulating message strategies. Explain that they’ll need to bring the views of disparate stakeholders into a company’s business plans. They will need to know those plans cold, and integrate them with the research designed to advance how the company relates to customers, distribution networks, Wall Street, employees, activist groups, political leaders, community residents, the news media—and others. This will entail ongoing dialogue with them all as you try to advance your organization’s mission. You also need to explain that a key part of that dialogue will be how you relate to the news media. They don’t care what the CEO thinks is news; they will decide that. You need to understand and adopt their perspec tive, and bring it into the C-suite.
▶ Navigating new media. Thinking like journalists in order to relate to them isn’t enough, however. At this instant, Gutenberg-scale changes are blitzing our world. Social media has already disrupted the news industry, commerce and organizational life. And more change is coming, faster. Social media is a transformative force, and you’ll need to know how to harness it.
▶ Mastering the art and science of influencing publics through relationships. True public relations masters motivate and change the behaviors of groups of people with shared interests, including the companies they work for. Their strategic tools are research, communication, evaluation, plus shared influence and recalibration with the publics on which the organization’s survival depends. You will have to link audiences’ perspectives and objectives to those of your organization. This is what great leaders do, and the best PR people do it themselves and enable others. Public relations can always use MBA graduates who understand that valuable role and can apply its methods. The opportunities are huge and growing.
Anthony D’Angelo is senior manager of communications at ITT Corp.
This article appeared in the September 30 issue of PR News. Subscribe to PR News today to receive weekly comprehensive coverage of the most fundamental PR topics from visual storytelling to crisis management to media training.