When I attended Columbia Business School in 1999, no one in my class knew what corporate communications was and there was no mention of the craft in the curriculum. It was discouraging. Many business schools deans then — and now — don’t see the value of teaching strategic communication to their students.
What’s interesting is that corporate executives have the opposite perspective. They know that shareholders, media, employees and competitors scrutinize their words and actions. They understand the bottom line value of a strong reputation. They understand that financial performance, communications and reputation are now inextricably entwined.
So why don't the deans?
To help influence business school deans, and eventually affect the curricula of business schools, the Arthur W. Page Society set out to explore the demand for strategic communications in business schools, what future leaders need to learn, and what MBA programs should be teaching.
The Page Society drew on relevant research, survey data, insights from business school professors and interviews with top executives. The resulting white paper, Teaching Strategic Communication in Business Schools: New Evidence from the C-Suite, provides a clear sightline into today’s business climate.
The findings are clear and underscore the need to teach the next generation of leaders about the power of communications as an executive management tool.
The most powerful arguments came from the executives Page interviewed, all of whom said they are intimately involved with communications on a daily basis. Tellingly, four of the five executives have MBA degrees but said they learned communication strategy and skills as they advanced in their careers, not in the classroom.
The executives included: Tim Andree, executive chairman, Dentsu Aegis Network; Michael W. Lamach, chairman and CEO, Ingersoll Rand; Ronald P. O’Hanley, president, Asset Management and Corporate Services, Fidelity Investments; Keith S. Sherin, chairman and CEO, GE Capital; and Eric Spiegel, president and CEO, Siemens Corporation.
“You need good internal and external communications,” O’Hanley told the Page Society. “It’s about how we get 40,000 people moving in the same direction and how we position ourselves to clients, the public and other stakeholders.”
Siemens’ Spiegel said he spends more than half his time in communication activities. “Internally and externally, all your stakeholders really pay attention to what you do and say. In these roles, you’re always on. You need to be quick on your feet and understand messaging and how it works. What’s your strategy? You need to stay on point.”
Just as PR professionals must understand and speak the language of business, business leaders need to understand and speak the language of communications. That convergence points up the need to work together.
One great example of this and a significant advance in the evolution of an MBA education is the pilot program PRSA rolled out at five business schools. The program’s goal is to enhance strategic communication and reputation management education.
In the 10-plus years since I was in business school, I’ve seen the business and media landscape change dramatically. At a time when a company’s reputation has a direct link to its stock price, it’s essential that the people who lead companies become exceptional communicators.
The Page white paper provides solid evidence that strategic communication is more important than ever and is an integral part of a business school education. Bottom line: This is data a dean cannot ignore.
Jennifer Prosek is founder and CEO of Prosek Partners and co-chair of the Arthur W. Page Society Education & Business Schools Workstream.