Increasing Business Acumen: A Career Imperative

Co-authors Matt Ragas and  Culpwrit at launch of new book.
Co-authors Matt Ragas and Culpwrit at launch of new book.

Like many marketing and public relations professionals, writing a book has been on my “bucket list” for most of my career.

I actually started writing three or four books over the years, but I didn’t get much past outlining potential chapters and perhaps a few pages of random thoughts. After opening a gourmet coffee store in upstate New York back when Starbucks was just starting to expand outside of Seattle, I did write and self-publish a 54-page “book” on how to start a coffee business. It wasn’t a best seller, and the extra copies filled a corner of my basement for several years.

So, the actual publication of Business Essentials for Strategic Communicators by a major publisher (Palgrave Macmillan) is a life achievement. I hasten to add that it wouldn’t have happened without the organizational discipline and talent of my co-author, Matt Ragas, who had previously written two other books of his own. We share similar approaches to experiential teaching and the imperative for communication and marketing professionals to strengthen their business acumen in order to provide informed counsel that helps clients achieve their goals and objectives.

As part of our research for writing our book, we surveyed the membership of the Arthur W. Page Society, whose members are CCOs, agency CEOs, and distinguished academics. The results of this survey of Page members were striking. Nearly 85% of the 112 respondents indicated that it is “extremely important” (the highest point on this 5-point scale) for public relations, marketing and advertising professionals to have a solid grounding in “Business 101” as part of their education and training. However, almost as high of a percentage (82%) indicated that new hires don’t have sufficient understanding of business concepts and terminology. Anecdotal conversations within other marketing professions reflect these findings—e.g. there is a serious need for increased business acumen by employees at nearly all levels.

To help close this gap, here are five initiatives that we believe should be undertaken:

  1. College marketing, advertising and PR programs should incorporate business fundamentals and concepts into existing required courses.
  2. Standalone business fundamental courses should be offered to all marketing, advertising and PR majors.
  3. Employers should assess business acumen of prospective new employees during the interview process.
  4. If you’re already working and didn’t have prior business training, you can train yourself through regular reading of the Wall Street Journal and other financial publications. Be sure to circle terms that you don’t understand and look them up. Do the same as you make a habit  of reading the quarterly earnings releases of your favorite companies.
  5. Agencies and corporations can increase post-graduation training of employees. Edelman recently informed 40 senior executives that they will participate in a pilot “mini-MBA” program at the University of Chicago. These senior managers will study strategy and decision making, business acumen, and strategic leadership.. The agency also offers in-house business-related courses to employees of all levels.

Some of these initiatives must make it through academic hurdles, while others are relatively easy to undertake by employers and employees.

The responsibility for arming yourself with business knowledge is a personal one. We’re certainly not advocating that everyone needs to get an MBA, but marketing and communication professionals absolutely-positively must understand and appreciate the business of business.

This article appears in the Business Marketing Association of Chicago’s new blog that was launched today. Matt Ragas and I will lead a luncheon discussion on this subject during the BMA’s January 15 luncheon meeting.

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