Businesspeople Should Study Communications


The biggest challenge in the PR business is finding talent. Traditionally, the sector has sought those with journalism and communications skills. Get people who can write and they’ll learn about business.

At my first agency job at Carl Byoir & Associates, I hadn’t come from a wire service or newspaper. I had an undergraduate journalism degree, but Carl Byoir was my first full-time job, right after I graduated from NYU Law School and passed the bar exam in 1977.

Since then, I’ve spent my entire career at PR agencies: Burson-Marsteller, Rowland Worldwide, and Carl Byoir, before starting my own firm, JeffreyGroup, in 1993. I’ve spend a lot of time working with client companies. One of the biggest barriers to successful PR programs is how little understanding many people in business have about what we do.

I’ve always had that unique perspective of being an attorney in the PR business. That’s come in very handy, especially in sensitive situations where lawyers are determined to ensure as little is said as possible. Being able to question lawyers, rather than just nod OK, has helped me and my clients. How great would it be if businesspeople truly understood communications? Instead of PR pros learning about business, what if people in business learned about PR? Answering that question was how I first came across the Management Communication Program at NYU’s Stern School of Business, where I’ve been an adjunct professor since 2007.

Each year, it introduces more than a thousand business undergrads and MBAs to the full range of corporate communications – from media relations to CSR.

Only a handful of these students will likely end up in PR. However, as I note at the last class of each semester, I hope these future Fortune 500 CEOs remember one thing: if the finance people want to cut the PR budget, I trust they’ve at least learned enough to stand firm and say, “No way!”