In fall 2012, the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business joined four other universities in an MBA initiative pilot curriculum called Public Relations for Business Leaders. This project, in cooperation with the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), aims to equip students with the professional communication skills that are essential to leaders today.
The course is led by Ken White, associate dean of MBA and MS programs at the Smith School, who brings to the role a wealth of knowledge from his career in public broadcasting, marketing and communications, and leadership development. “This is a great opportunity for the Smith School to participate in something that may actually affect curriculum in MBA programs around the world,” says White. “You don’t get that opportunities like this very often.”
Smith MBA students go to a local television studio to practice live, on-camera interviews.
In a survey of 500 CEOs conducted by PRSA, 90 percent of respondents noted that MBAs lack the necessary skills to manage communication, reputation, and multicultural understanding in the workplace. In response to this finding, the foundation of the course is centered on communication strategy, function and performance, and provides students with the experiential learning and feedback necessary to grow as confident leaders.
In one project, students prepared “20/20” presentations, which consisted of 20 PowerPoint slides, with 20 seconds of dialogue allowed for each slide. Presentation topics, decided by each individual, covered a wide range of student interests and experiences, including volunteering, social impact bonds, the history of beer brewing, internet memes, travel tales from Dubai and Japan, and journeys through Brazilian, Venezuelan, Italian, Indian, Siberian, and Slovenian culture.
"I really wanted to pick a topic that allowed me to share an experience that I might not otherwise get to share in a normal MBA class,” said Andrew Cole, who shared experiences from his undergraduate studies in Japan. “I wanted it to be a topic that gave some insight into who I am as a person.”
Luke Lindberg chose a strategic educational topic for his presentation. "I presented on social impact bonds because they are on the cutting edge of government financing and bring together the public and private sectors to achieve community outcomes. I saw this as an opportunity to spread the idea to a group of future business leaders in hopes that they might engage with it at some point in their careers."
Throughout the semester, students will have many opportunities to present and receive feedback from their colleagues, and will finish the coursework with a written public relations plan for an existing business, startup, or non-profit organization. You can follow the class discussion on Twitter at #PRMBA.