Should PR pros get MBAs?

A public relations executive explains why he doesn’t think the degree is worth it.

For years those of us in the PR industry have asked, “Is an accreditation in PR (APR) worth it?”

But few PR pros ask, “Is an MBA worth it?”

Lately it seems a number of my friends are seeking their MBAs. While getting more education is never a bad idea, I can’t help but wonder if an MBA is really worth it.

People in PR pursue an MBA for three reasons:

1. They’re bored.

Call this one a hunch, but it’s my belief that some people get their MBAs simply because they don’t have enough to do at work, home and in life. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that. I’m just stating an observation.

2. They want corner office jobs.

Or they at least want higher-level jobs. This is probably the primary reason most people get MBAs. At least, this is the reason they talk about publicly. An MBA is supposed to put you on a different career trajectory, and it’s a requirement for director-level jobs at some companies.

3. They’re unsure of what to do next.

It’s the old GMAT deal. Did you graduate from college, and aren’t sure what to do next? Why not take the GMAT?

I’m convinced this is a reason some people get MBAs. “I don’t know what to do, and there are a lot of people getting their MBAs. Maybe I should try it.”

So, we know why people are pursuing MBAs. But I ask again: Is it worth it?

My friend Allan Schoenberg would say it absolutely is, but maybe not for the reasons you may think. His stance is that it’s more about the journey than the letters.

As a former APR (I’m not currently a PRSA member, and you lose your designation if you let your membership lapse. But that’s a topic for a different day.), I can say my APR was all about the journey and had very little impact after the fact.

Is that enough? Is that worth sinking $80,000 into an MBA?

I realize employers are picking up at least a piece of the tab for many people, but pursuing an MBA is also a significant time investment.

If we look at the above reasons PR pros pursue MBAs, the only discernable business reason is to get a better job. So, let me rephrase my question: “Will an MBA help you get a better job?”

I’m not so sure.

There is no doubt an MBA is worth it from a networking and knowledge point of view. Like I said earlier, I would never fault someone for getting more education. That’s always a good thing, period.

But if you’re getting an MBA simply because you think it will pave your way to a VP position, is that the right reason to do it?

I was on the corporate and agency sides of a business for more than 15 years before I broke out on my own. I saw a lot of this. Here are my takeaways:

1. Get an MBA, but only if you know you want a leadership position on the corporate side.

If you plan to work at an agency, an MBA means nothing. I’m not saying the knowledge is useless (it clearly isn’t), but agencies don’t hire people just because they have MBAs. Agencies hire creative problem solvers who can get stuff done or bring in business.

However, the corporate side is a completely different story. MBAs and other forms of higher education are often qualifiers for senior-level jobs like vice president and director. I’ve seen it first-hand at several corporations I’ve worked for and with.

If you want a senior job on the corporate side, an MBA might be a wise investment.

2. Get your MBA while you can.

Another key piece of advice is to get your MBA before life takes over. For me, at 41 with a wife and two kids, it’s almost impossible to think about spending more than 20 hours a week in a classroom and working on homework. It’s logistically impossible.

I have to pick up the kids from school, and go to soccer games and gymnastics practices. I coach and work. And if I want to stay married, I need time with my wife. There’s simply no time.

But when I was 26 and single, I had all sorts of time. That was my window. Take advantage of your window if you want to pursue your MBA. It will probably only be open for a short time.

3. Focus on networking.

If I were to go back and get my MBA, my chief goal would be to use the classroom time and projects to get to know my classmates. After all, how do you think you’re going to find those killer VP roles after you graduate? You’ll find them through this peer group.

Of course getting the little initials after your name is cool, and the knowledge will certainly benefit you, but the relationships you develop with the senior PR pros and marketers in your classes will pay off immeasurably down the road.

My friends who are taking MBA classes here in Minneapolis describe who else is in the room: people from General Mills, Target, Medtronic, 3M, Best Buy and St. Jude’s. It’s a who’s who list of the big companies in town. Where else can you network with up-and-comers at these big companies and nurture relationships that will last a lifetime?

You’ve heard a lot from me. What do you think? Is an MBA worth it for PR professionals?

Arik Hanson, APR, is the principal of ACH Communications, a digital communications consultancy. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Communications Conversations.

Topics: PR

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