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I took part in a #pr20chat this week. As usual, it was worthwhile.

The best part, though, was the side conversation I had with Justin Goldsborough about MBA’s and PR.

MBA’s are much maligned. People say you don’t need one to start/fix/manage a wildly successful biz. They’re right. People also contend that MBA’s think in a box and lack creativity. They’re right too. Sometimes.

Few PR people have MBA’s. This makes some sense, since our craft involves a fairly specific range of tasks that are best learned via doing. But, as an MBA myself (I graduated from the Executive MBA program at Concordia in Montreal in 2009) I can say without reservation that THE DEGREE HOLDS GREAT VALUE FOR PR PROS and is worth considering.

Here are 5 ways getting an MBA can help PR pros:

  1. It focuses your thinking on business goals. As a profession we are rightly accused of lacking understanding about business goals. We yell and scream about press hits, retweets, influence scores, content marketing, etc but often demonstrate a lack of knowledge about how these things tie to the bottom line. An MBA drills business goals into you. As a PR pro it trained me to think beyond the usual metrics of my craft and about the broader picture. When others see this line of thinking from a flak they are impressed – especially clients.
  2. An MBA teaches you the ‘dialect of the tribe’. Business leaders – C-suiters – speak a certain language. Whether for good or bad, this is likely to remain the case, which means PR needs to speak it too. An MBA, as I told Justin the other night, teaches you to ‘speak the dialect of the tribe’. More than that, an MBA with a generalistic approach (like the EMBA I did), puts you in a position to actually converse with other functional areas in a biz. So, though I am not an expert on derivatives, I definitely understand what net present value is and can converse remotely intelligently with the finance department about the concept. Again, this ability makes a PR pro stand out and gain cred/respect.
  3. The degree gives you tools to run your own shop. Many PR pros have at least entertained the notion of running their own consultancy or agency one day. This involves a WHOLE WHACK of things that have little to do with the craft of PR. You need to know how to read a balance sheet, practice sound HR, manage change, and keep operating costs low. No doubt you can learn this stuff without an MBA, but it doesn’t hurt.
  4. It pays. Even though the MBA is much maligned, it does still pay – in a dollars sense – to get one. There is ample evidence to support this. My own experience is that salary rises after the degree is awarded.
  5. It grows your network. Arguably the biggest benefit of an MBA, especially an EMBA, is the network you get. You go through WAR with your classmates and the bond becomes tight. No doubt zillions of non-MBA’d folks have HUGE networks. But an MBA does help. My MBA network  has led to PR specific business opps that would not have otherwise occurred.

If you have thoughts on this, please weigh in.

Join the discussion 26 Comments

  • Marty says:

    Thanks Jackson. I’ve been putting some thought into expanding my own education, but have not really been sure which direction I’d like to expand. Though I have included an MBA in my consideration, your piece gives me a bit more to chew on and evaluate.


  • On the whole, the MBA was good for me. Parts of it were really bad. But it def expanded my horizons and made me better at my job. The EMBA was kinda neat because all the other peeps in the program were managers too. Very helpful to be around motivated folks, who were – like me – also trying to get the humans who worked for them to do specific tasks.

  • Excellent food for thought, Jackson. Thanks for continuing the conversation. Heather and I actually thought it was such an interesting one, we decided to discuss the value of advanced degrees — MBAs and masters of IMC – for PR pros on this week’s #pr20chat TV, which will be out soon.

    I studied for and took the GMAT in 2008. Was dead set on an MBA. But at the same time, my former employer took away the tuition reimbursement benefit and I decided to wait. One other benefit to consider with an MBA, I think, is for the employer. Had they been paying for me to get an MBA, I probably wouldn’t have left a year and a half ago. That assumes, of course, they found my services beneficial to the company :).

    I think it’s a really tough decision that has to be weighed on a case-by-case basis. For instance, if you plan to work on the corporate side and hope to move up, an MBA is more important than on the agency side. However, if you want to start your own company someday, I could see the value there too. And the network benefit you mentioned is a huge one. My brother recently did a stint at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and the connections he made are no doubt the best result of his experience.

    For me, I’m still trying to make up my mind. Not sure I want to make the financial investment at this time, but we’ll see. One thing I know for sure…if I don’t decide to get an MBA, I will need to work even harder to read up, ask questions and find mentors who can teach me the business acumen side of the biz since I won’t be getting that education. Cheers, great conversation.

  • Great comment Justin. Esp re the value to employers. I think you are right that some (corporate) derive more value than others. If I can add any value to your discussion over at #pr20chat I’d love to help. Thanks again for stopping by 🙂

  • Thoughtful post. I appreciate you taking the time to share how someone in PR can benefit from getting their MBA. I also just finished up my MBA and posted my perspective on what I got out of the experience.

    Understanding basic business concepts and the dialect that goes along with it are a must, especially for those of us in the service industry. It allows you to better understand your client’s worldviews and you become much more empathetic. While getting your MBA, you learn these things by working with others that have jobs much different than yours. You gain an appreciation for the distinct ways people solve problems and make decisions. To me, this is one of most significant values of getting your MBA, regardless of what you do for a living.

  • Patrick Cavanaugh says:

    Interesting insights–i think the most important notions were learning business fundamentals and vocabulary. However, I don’t believe an MBA is necessarily the only possible post-graduate degree for a pr practitioner. I completed an M.A. in Strategic Public Relations at USC Annenberg, and can say that not only did we have a course focused solely on these key “mba” learnings (Corporate Strategy, Accounting & Finance, Marketing, and Operations), but also the whole of the program was dedicated to applicable pr practice including startegic thinking, crisis communications, corporate reputation, etc. which prepared me for the work im doing today.

    Perhaps later in my career, with perhaps a look to running my own firm, the MBA would be a prudent choice.

  • Danny Starr says:

    i think there is also a conversation to be had why they don’t teach/talk about PR in MBA programs…

  • Good point Dan! We had about 4-6 hrs of communications classes in my EMBA. Couple of cases about what to do (and not do) when shit hits the fan (if memory serves these were the Tylenol recall and CN train derailment).

    But, for sure, this is insufficient to prepare managers for this era where crisis management and comms have so drastically changed.

  • All advanced academic education is useful. As relates to PR, I have seen where an MBA can be just the ticket needed to land a financial or IR job. But when it comes to the other specialties in PR, I don’t see, nor do my clients see, the correlation between an MBA and understanding how your company or your client’s company makes money. An MBA is an awfully expensive way to become a star or agency owner in PR, in my opinion.

    In my headhunting experience, the most valuable, all-around, advanced degree to have is a law degree. If you going to go the expensive degree route anyway, why not go all the way and get a law degree. I’ve seen J.D. degree holders excel in many different areas of PR. The J.D. student graduates as a businessman/woman, CPA & MBA all rolled into one. In addition, good writing is the corner stone of every J.D. program. It also happens to be the foundation of the PR profession.

  • Lisa Rodriguez says:

    love this post. agree with the 5 points. I’d add having an MBA has helped PR in my company (and with my clients when I was at an agency) be more respected. CFOs, CIOs, COOs, etc. don’t just see the PR contact as one of those “people from marketing” because many times you have the same degree or level of education as they do… it’s helps establish you as a peer with a voice at the executive table.

    Jackson – what do you think about getting a panel together at the PRSA conference to flesh out the value of getting an MBA for PR pros? Not sure it’s been done before, but I know a lot of folks push the value of getting APR, but I haven’t really seen that make or break a PR pro, whereas in an MBA I have. We could get 3-4 MBA PR peeps to chat about their experiences and takeaways. I’d be happy to participate. whaddayathink?

  • Lisa, I am down to participate. Sounds cool. Shld we connect via Email

  • Hi Darci,

    I did pay my own way for my EMBA. This means i am still paying 🙂

    That said it was still worth it. In terms of other programs I must confess ignorance. I did my MBA in my home city. Take care

  • Darci McConnell says:

    I too appreciate your comments, particularly since I own my own firm and needed to shore up the business side of my skill set. To do so, I took part in one of Dartmouth’s executive education program, ‘building a high performing business,’ and left inspired to pursue my MBA. However, as a boutique firm, I found the accelerated executive education MBA programs cost prohibitive. Did you pay your own way? Do you know of any programs that assist small business owners with pursuing this degree?
    Thanks again.

  • Megan Getter says:

    The article and all the comments were very helpful. I’m a junior completing my B.S. in PR. The college I’m at offers an MBA program, but doesn’t have any graduate level communication programs. Does anyone know how an MBA compares to an actual communication graduate program? What are the pros and cons associated with MA in Public Relations?

  • Andre says:

    Re: compensation. EMBA’s are usually much more expensive than the “traditional” MBA’s. Do you feel that you’re in a better position to get a decent ROI on this investment now and in the future, as far as your compensation vs. how much you paid for the EMBA? I’ve been considering changing professions, I feel like I’ll never crack past about $65-70k in PR (which isn’t too shabby in my GMA), but getting an MBA to gain a salary edge now and in the future is not a bad idea.

  • Hey Andre,

    I did get solid ROI on the degree. To give you a sense of the cost of the degree, it was just over 50k. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • Laura says:

    Jackson, it’s a good argument, but hardly a compelling case. What you’re saying is that it was good for you. It would be great to see some solid data.

  • Hey Laura,

    Yup you got it. It was good for me. All I purported to do was share my experience. If you wanna know about data, there is plenty about the quantitative benefits of higher education.

  • Brittnee says:

    Hi Jackson,

    I’m so glad you wrote this post. I’m a junior and I’ve been contemplating whether to go to graduate school or join the workforce after I graduate. I have PR experience but I know my ultimate goal and I think graduate school will help me get there, but I’m still at a crossroad. What are your thoughts on Master’s programs that specialize in media management? (Syracuse University and the University of Southern California have those programs.)

  • Hey Brittnee,

    I am not knowledgeable enough to comment on the media management programs. Forgive my ignorance. 🙂

  • Hilary Gwisdala, APR says:

    Thanks for the interesting story on MBAs for public relations professionals.

    One thing I think is missing here is a discussion on APR – Accreditation in Public Relations. I earned my APR through the Public Relations Society of America and although it is not all about business, it does help remind you to think strategically and be goal/objective-oriented and results-drive in your planning and work ethic.

    I used to think I wanted to get my master’s degree, but it seemed in our profession that an APR was just as prestigious as a master’s. I’m not sure what the right answer is, but wanted to remind everyone that an APR is another option.

  • Jeanie Latz says:

    If you live in or near Kansas City, I would encourage you to check out the UMKC Bloch Executive MBA program and see for yourself its value in moving your career to the next level.

  • Frank Strong says:

    Couldn’t agree more Jackson, excellent post. Your second point is the most significant in my mind. PR is constantly under criticism for “not understanding the business.” A big part of this is speaking the language of business and the ability to understand financial statements; principles like cash flow statement are the link between income and balance sheets. An MBA is a universal degree that will help anyone, let along PR pros, no matter their pursuits.

  • I don’t live in Kansas City. I already have an Executive MBA and I am definitely always looking to move things to the next level (esp. when we are talking about drinks with vodka in them 🙂

  • Marie Hunt says:

    You bring up a lot of good points why people in the PR industry should look into some executive education courses or an MBA program. I know that Thunderbird is very reputable for their programs and are actually highly ranked as a top school for networking while earning a degree, which would be perfect for PR people as per your #5 reason.

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