What public relations can’t get from business school

Because I’ve worked in higher education for some 15 years, I shouldn’t be surprised that we’re still arguing over PR’s rightful place here. No school or department in the university seems to suit us public relations educators in our quest for a “seat at management’s table.”

The latest entry in the where-we-belong discussion comes from John Guiniven, associate professor of public relations at Elon University tacticscollage3.gifand regular contributor to Tactics, PRSA‘s monthly tab. Dr. Guiniven is a veteran PR professional and scholar,and I read his contributions faithfully. This month we disagree.

In the October issue, he argues that PR should abandon its traditional home in journalism. Dr. Guiniven, and others he cites, suggest that business school would make more sense for PR students and for the discipline.

My regular readers (Hey, I have a couple!) are doing a daja vu right now. Yeah, I wrote about one aspect of this topic last week and made known my comfort level with my own home in the School of Journalism. What I didn’t do is make my case against a move to the business school. So here goes.

I base my argument on the skills and the knowledge PR students need to make it in the world. I’ll let you decide which school or department can best deliver the goods.

Writing. No one will argue that a PR professional requires polished writing skills. Journalism programs that stay on the cutting edge (and all don’t) should be equipped to develop those skills in their students. At Kent State, the focus on writing is downright obsessive, and it produces writers who can handle on-deadline assignments, on paper, on air, or online. While our students may not be schooled at programming a Web site or its database interfaces, they understand how new media fit into a problem-solving strategy and they can produce content.

You don’t get that in business school.

Ethics & Social Responsibility. Pressured by the sins of their alumni, most business schools now include some discussion of ethics and corporate social responsibility in their curriculum. As public relations professionals, we’ve been talking ethics and social responsibility since the 1950s. At Kent, we’re as obsessive about ethics as we are about writing. All students in the Journalism School take a semester-long course that focuses on ethics in the communication disciplines.

You don’t get that in business school.

Media Relations. Media relations isn’t the primary function of most PR pros these days. But your bosses expect you to know it, and know it cold. In J-School, students take courses where they work elbow-to-elbow with journalism students and journalism faculty. The process builds appreciation and understanding for the media-relations dynamic — essential to new professionals.

You don’t get that in business school.

Critical thinking and problem-solving. Those who would move PR education to business school like to say J-Schools don’t “get” strategic thinking. Some probably don’t, but they have only themselves to blame. If the PR faculty doesn’t get business or if they have no experience in the business world, students won’t get it either. You fix that by hiring faculty with real-world experience (faculty like Elon’s John Guiniven, whose professional credentials are impeccable).

Blatant plug: The Kent State PR faculty bring a combined 80 years of professional experience into the classroom. Each one of us, as former corporate- and agency-side executives, have been “at the table,” and we’ve helped shape high-level strategic decisions. We’re all APR’s, and involved with the profession. We’re all capable of doing PR as well as teaching it. It works here, but…

You don’t get that in business school.

Are business courses important to PR students? No. They’re critical. At Kent, we require 7 business courses that encompass Economics, Management, Accounting and Marketing. I’d like to add 3 more: Finance, Marketing Research, and Statistics. All we need is one more semester! We DO get that from business school!

There’s no doubt that a closer relationship with PR and Business could help both disciplines, and maybe the one we have at Kent is closer than most. But I’m not buying the idea that business is a better home for preparing PR students. And I’ve never been real comfortable with business educators who define their stakeholders as “customers.”

One Response to What public relations can’t get from business school

  1. John Guiniven says:

    Thanks for your comments on my recent column. I can’t say I disagree with you about moving PR to business schools. I didn’t mean to imply I favorder such a move, and wanted only to present that oft-discussed option. In fact, I tend to believe there is no part of education more overrated than business schools, specifically the MBA. In 1994, American for the first time topped 100,000 MBA graduates, and we have produced more than that annually ever since. Also, 1994 saw the highest number of downsizings in manufacturing jobs, jobs that won’t come back regardless of the economy’s bounce-back. Coincidence? I’m not so sure.
    Still, I do think a separation from traditional J schools would be a good step, or at least a recognition within those schools that PR is something more than a cash cow. I think more PR people in Deans’ chairs would help.
    Anyway, I enjoy your blog. Continued success to you and the fine program at Kent State.
    John Guiniven
    P.S. I do vehemently object to your choice of the Steelers as a favorite team. If you looked the other way from your hometown of Indiana, PA, you could have seen my beloved Eagles — or Iggles, as we like to say.

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