Creating C-Level Execs with PR Headsets
I've always said that certain top executives possess what I'd call a "PR headset." They just instinctively "get it." They know how important it is for the C-level spokespeople to be good storytellers and to make strategic communications a top priority for their companies.
The Natural - Some of them just have a natural ability and understanding of this and they love to partner with comms professionals to use their skills well and learn how to even expand them on behalf of their companies.
The Scholar - Others have the potential and the interest/understanding, but they recognize they need to build or improve their basic skills and agree to media training. They are typically the biggest proponents of further training to make sure their entire bench of spokespeople is capable of telling the story well.
The Delegator - This group doesn't understand or appreciate the power and importance of communications, and delegate it to other layers in their organizations.
I firmly believe that the first two categories of executives build more successful brands because of their strategic use of communications. It's not something you can delegate; it has to start at the top for it to be an essential part of the corporate culture.
So I was particularly interested in reading about PRSA's efforts to build new C-levels with PR headsets by teaming with excellent MBA programs, starting with Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, to incorporate a communications curriculum into the training of these business leaders. It was spawned by research that showed the disconnect between critical strategic communications best practices for executive leaders, such as reputation management and corporate communications, and the paltry amount of communications preparation incorporated into most MBA programs. When PRSA followed this initial research with a study that indicated that 9 out of 10 business leaders admitted their corporate executives required greater training in core communications discipline, the impetus was created for broadening this initiative.
The program is now incorporated into five MBA programs: Tuck; Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management; University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business; Quinnipiac University's School of Business and Engineering; and the University of Texas at El Paso's College of Business Administration.
A white paper issued by PRSA outlined some of the early feedback on the success of these programs.
Paul Argenti, professor of corporate communications for Tuck School, worked closely with PRSA to build the model syllabi. Its first 38 participants provided feedback that "it was one of the students' favorite courses in the entire MBA program." Feedback from the other participating schools has been similarly positive. Each is adapting the curriculum in a manner that is appropriate for their emphasis and population. For example, UT at El Paso is emphasizing global media relations and international communications, as these are important for the MBA students enrolled in their program. Others are building bridges to existing master's programs in public relations or working to create Communication Centers. PRSA itself is using the findings so far, documented in its white paper, to provide guidelines for other schools who want to participate.
LPP's Andi Narvaez talked recently with David Altounian (@daltounian), assistant professor of entrepreneurship at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas, about this movement to add communications training for business executives. His school has a DBMA, which is a unique hybrid MBA in digital media management that combines digital and traditional business courses. This is part of a next step of preparing business leaders to add value to their companies as communications and marketing are changing and evolving. It recognizes the trend toward "growth hacking" practiced by a new breed of entrepreneurs who are successfully combining traditional backgrounds in business, marketing and communications, with skills like coding and programming. The intent is to both build and promote their products by addressing the most important audiences early and quickly through the right channels.
"There is a significant opportunity for the next generation of business leaders to gain a working knowledge of strategic communications and inform the strategic direction of a wide range of businesses," Argenti said in the announcement of the national expansion of the Tuck program. Tuck's Dean Paul Danos added, "Leadership and communication strategies and skills go hand-in-hand, both for the competitive organization and the successful individual."
We couldn't agree more. We look forward to more newly minted CEOs and C-Level executives wearing PR headsets along with their caps and gowns at their MBA graduation ceremonies.