Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Comments on a prestigious University expanding its degree programs in a unique and admirable way (name of the School is removed). Agencies like Edelman, Ketchum, Fleishman Hillard, may find the new degrees of interest to their HR plans.

"Other schools would benefit from this school's approach to educational planning. Their response to the strategic and applied communication education market is a credit to their insight into the demand for professional education over the past 5 years. Their initial response to create a strategic program for more experienced professionals seeking to advance in their field or develop new business communications knowledge for corporate, agency, government or not-for-profit organizations was timely as the field was growing at 9 percent per year. The School has established a recognized position in an enviable leading communication industry and professional market. They allowed the program to mature, attract students, build a reputation and attract senior clinical faculty.

As the market changed; they did not simply rest or exploit the new demand that would change the character of their strategic program. Unlike others have done in similar programs, they reanalyzed the market and with determination and decided to offer a new, advanced degree program that met the needs of the market of younger and more international students. Rather than simply muddle the program they had created for a more experienced and older market (similar to what was done in superior MBA programs) they recognized and redefined their educational mission to serve the newer applicant pool.

The extraordinary demand for an American university education from students in China and other countries in Asia was seen by the faculty and administration as a new market rather than simply more applicants to fill a program that was not suited to the Asian applicants. (I spend 20 days and more in China each year with several faculty courtesy appointments). The team also saw the demand of younger, more recent college graduates as different from the interest of the pool of applicants served by the established master’s degree. Instead of watering down their existing degree with students who can benefit from and earn a graduate degree, they realized that the knowledge and skills that needed to be “mastered” were different from the knowledge and skills of the strategic degree.

While the distinct cultural experience of international students is often of great value to a class of sometimes parochial Americans, the barriers to learning in the field of communications are often tied to the namesake of the field. As with any other professional field, the skills and knowledge needed to succeed early in a communications career are demanding and core to the grasp of the professional practice and concept building. An approach we utilize at Northwestern is to identify theories or concepts that are more universal and examples of best thinking by business and other organizational leaders. The concepts, while very helpful to articulating why a specific action may be taken, are not sufficient. In a professional field as far ranging and dependent on so many social science bodies of knowledge, statistics and mathematics; a comprehensive degree at the masters level much match concept with tactics.

For the professional students without work experience or a portfolio of written and creative work, their degree work must direct them to accomplish the concepts and practices of the field. For students with a newer acquired command of business English and less experience in the Western business environment; their education and training must emphasize a few powerful theories and even more tactical skills to demonstrate their grasp of the advanced fundamentals of the field. It would be my belief that the new generation of students would receive an education that would emphasize more application of tools and tactics but still make sure they are grounded in very carefully selected theories or concept. The ratio for the applied degree might be 30% theories and concepts matched with 60% tactics and tools directly related to the concepts taught. While all tools and tactics should be based on a concept to explain why the tactic is being used, not all theories have incumbent tactics. The other advanced degree with different objectives for a different set of masters candidates may be 70% theories and concepts (sometimes called strategies in business) and 30% knowledge and application of skills (tools and concepts).

This model gives me a strong reason to agree that two master’s degrees with different objectives can co-exist in the same school exploring the same widely defined topic – communications. The School is taking a stronger approach to the education of the next generation of business leaders who will use communications as a strategic and tactical advantage in the marketplace of ideas, products and services.

Rather than entering the market at a “lower” level (as some might interpret their actions), the educational plan, courses and faculty illustrate the intellectual and practical benefit of distinguishing between the two slightly parallel degrees and timely degrees. The degree opens the world of conceptual and applied communications to a wider range of holders of a wide range of bachelor’s degrees. The degree is a superior model in which many students can begin their careers in an increasing specialized world with advanced work.

In summary, the school’s identification and definition of a professional degree for less experienced candidates with the desire to “master” a subject is an appropriate degree at an applied level in a strong university environment. I fully expect that selected topics of the strategic communications degree will “trickle down” as new knowledge is created and tested in that degree. I expect that a number of joint opportunities will be conceived of notable guest speakers from industry and academe, possible mentoring by the older master’s students on complex projects but also tutoring by the younger students on some of the quantitative work and tactics that they share. Some form of joint field trips to advanced agencies or practices of the strategic students might be bonding. I hope that the Applied students would be considered by the strategic students who are working for their firms. Their common and overlapping education would be a great recommendation for employment and the joint interest into the Columbia model would be a productive value to share. A single joint team project at the end of their coursework might be conceived to have them work as a comprehensive team of strategists and applied experts.

The strongest possible effort must be documented and practiced to give both sets of students equal respect and equal rewards to meet their goals. The culture of the School should reflect the efforts of the faculty and administration to demonstrate that the degrees are both master’s of communications. The distinction should be goal driven and important to the students as they master elements of knowledge and skills of a wide and deep discipline.

The educational nostrum that education should prepare students for their third job or for a job that has not been created sometimes belies the value of the widely ranging baccalaureate degrees of the candidates, the rich nature of the media covering topics that might have only been found in advanced curriculum, and the life-time learning goals of students. School faculty and administrators have carefully defined a professional communications degree in two categories which should lead and define the field among their competitors but mostly to the advantage of their students. While other schools, including Northwestern, force the faculty to select from only one degree in strategic and applied business communications (Integrated Marketing Communications in the Medill School); this school can logically attract a wider range of students. The Medill IMC program was judged in the competitive analysis as a "marketing program" not a "communication" program despite the title Integrated Marketing Communications.

Finally, the idea of a dual track master’s programs in strategic and applied communications seems to be a superior model to attract a wider range of holders of the baccalaureate degree in a wider range of topics rather than those with “pre-professional” degrees. I have confidence in the faculty to carefully and continuously monitor the distance between the two degrees, the standards for admission, planned overlaps, and joint learning opportunities. This monitoring of an original new degree mix will be served by experience, testing, occasional failures and frequent faculty reviews to create true distinction between the degrees but a long term goal of finding important similarities and even dual master’s earned by very selected students over time."

Press Interview on ABC-TV Chicago Sotomayor and Burris is a civics and serious public relations (or public affairs) lesson on the nature of candidates for nomination of any government post. I won't agree with a colleague who lavishly praised the President as "trying to be the perfect President" with his appointment of Sotomayor (a professor should be less effusive), but I credit the President with a choice he wants and the experience that may make it hard to reject unless contradictions come to light. Like Robert Bork who was rejected by the Senate on Oct. 23, 1987 (he was one of 36 Supreme Court nominations rejected since 1789); Judge Sotomayor has a long, notable record of written work and opinions developed over many career years. The New Haven Firefighter case is only the most recent controversial case that could haunt her. Most policy decision makers including business leaders have acted, spoken or written something over a long career of decision-making that may seem inconsistent 20 years later. Bork, as a young assistant law professor, wrote about ideas and research that came back to haunt him many, many years later. The process if vetting a Supreme Court Justice for a lifetime appointment, like the process of granting tenure to a university professor, is arduous, detailed, biased and not always fair. Between May 2009 and August 2009, the process is a great civics lesson for visiting international students, for the proverbial 6th grader and for voting adults who need to be reminded that this appointment is not a tabloid topic in US magazine for a week.

Senator Burris (D. IL) is on the roasting spit again. While it is always difficult to fill in the words between the recorded "umms, ahs, you know, that thing, yes, OK, then" etc. the Senator's words over the phone with the former Governor's brother will be parsed carefully. Having edited a book on mergers and acquisitions for Prentice-Hall many years ago (1992). I know that it is very hard to make sense out of spoken speeches and panel comments. We don't speak in complete sentences or even speak with complete thoughts. Still, the Senator should find a meaningful project to keep him busy during this last year as a U.S. Senator and step aside for a open election of reform candidates. Burris is the old guard. He is "not as bad as some" but what kind of a recommendation is that for a U.S. Senator? Unlike the considered conclusion of Richard Edelman that dull may be a good trait for a CEO; the press, public, pundits and others run with sharp knives that must keep public figures sharp as well. I would proffer that most CEOs of public companies are "public figures" too like Judge Sotomayor and Senator Burris. The CEO's may not like the comparison, but their desire to be green, to be diverse, use public funds, to be trusted all demand a public persona and actions.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Can you help? See Theories and Tools Table at the end.

Our assignment is to suggest to the IMC faculty that some functional areas of PR can be taught in modules and that some more advanced courses can include ideas like transparency or trust but also match to teaching tools or tactics at a very practical level. Lately, a debate has been "raging" that the IMC program is more marketing-based than communications-based due to the loss of knowledge and skills of the students in communications. We need your help to sort out this debate with new ideas for the education and training of our graduate and undergraduate students.

The list below is a very primitive view of the world that I have: "All business and organizational tactics or applied tools must emanate from a theory or concept or they would not exist, e.g. stakeholder maps as tools come from the literature of stakeholders, audiences, power, networks, influence, etc." The learning objective must be that the students know "why" they select a tool to use; not just "how" to use the tool. Some theories like "authenticity" or "trust" may or may not have a developed and tested tool that helps to operationalize the concept.

Here is where the fun begins. Can you suggest from your education (sociology, psychology, marketing, communications, law, management, motorcycle repair, economics, neuroscience) theories or concepts and their related tactics or tools like the table below? If you can't match a theory and tool, can you just list both and we can match them up later?

Modules and or courses in areas from the past. Some courses now offered, but still need help. Topics in BOLD
are currently in the curriculum. Others were offered when PR was a fully staffed program in Medill.

Current and Past Courses in PR or Corpcomm.
1. Media relations
2. Employee relations
3. Public Affairs, Issues Management
4. Crisis management
5. Speech writing
6. Media and business writing
7. Investor Relations and Legal Issues (Sarbannes-Oxley and regs)
8. Stakeholders and Social Media Communities
9. Media and marketing law
10. Marketing Public Relations (product service sales)

11. Organizational Change Management

Other courses in IMC as required for all student in bold and the others are optional or electives
1. Marketing
2. Marketing Finance
3. Statistics 1 and 2
4. Database Analysis
and advanced Database Analysis
5.Creative Strategy (not art but process)
6. Advertising cases
7. On-line and Internet marketing
8. Capstone IMC course
9. International IMC
10. Branding
11. Loyalty marketing
12. Consumer Behavior and Insight

Resources at NU and from the Work of the Department
1. Lexis/Nexis, Factiva full services and free at library and on-line
2. Bacon's on-line
3. Biz360, VMS-Info data tracking of media and social media
4. statistics including descriptive and analytical SPSS, SAS
5. MRI data on-line with custom runs
7. Clients (Southwest Air, YUM!, Coke, Whirlpool, Banks, law firms, Miller Brewing, etc.)
8. Non-disclosure agreements to do confidential work
9. Summer residencies and other full scale group and team projects
10. International, primarily Asian, students
11. Students with agency and corporate experience
12. Unlimited Internet access
13. Training in blogs, Second Life, Data Depot and a wide range of newer media tools
14. Micro-soft suites, Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint, e-mails,
15. Facebook, LinkedIn, Tokoni, Skype, Doostang, Plaxo, Myspace, Pownce, Twitter, Spock, etc.
16. Aggregators (moving target) Akregator · Blam! · BlogBridge · BottomFeeder · Canto · Cooliris · eSobi · FeedDemon · Feedreader · Feedview · FreeRange WebReader · Hubdog · Liferea · mDigger · Mercury Messenger · Mindity · NetNewsWire · NewsAccess · NewsBreak · Newsbeuter · NewsFire · NewsFox · RSS Bandit · RSSOwl · Sage · Snarfer · Thinfeeder · Vienna
17. Resources of the Artificial Intelligence Lab at NU (18. Silver Anvil entries each year in many categories in full binder form
19. Various trade pubs including PR Tactics, PRWeek, etc.
20. Basic knowledge of marketing finance and accounting.
21. Use of the full Avid television studio for media training and editing at Medill
22. Access to professional association meetings in Chicago (PRSA, IABC, WIC, BMA, AMA, etc.)
23. Access to research documents of A.W. Page, Edelman, others.
24. Teaching by adjunct part-time faculty and visiting lecturers and possibly full-time faculty


Theory/Concept: Tool/Tactic/Application
Persuasion: web, media audits "on message"
Stakeholders: Stakeholder maps and dynamics
Social Networks: new(er) social media including Second Life
Crowds and mobs: Crowd sourcing, Wisdom of the crowds applications
Collaboration: new telecommunications, Skype
Elites: elite and influentials
Transparency, Trust: trust studies (Edelman Barometers),
Reputation: journalism, surveys, rankings
Authenticity: A.W. Page study
Power: forms of power
Business and Government: lobbying, association management
Journalism PR Values: ethics, codes, values
First Amendment: codes, public figures, PR Ads
Futurism: issues management, predictive models
Game Theory risk analysis
Digital: large samples media tracking systems
Best Practices: communications audits and Silver Anvil review
IR: reading annual reports, performance ratios
Neuroscience: brain scans for "hot spots"