Does Business Knowledge Really Improve the Success of Communication Managers?

EUPRERA Annual Congress 2015, BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo, October 1-3, 2015

Posted: 2 Oct 2015

See all articles by Holger Sievert

Holger Sievert

Macromedia University; Technische Universitaet Munchen (TUM); University of Cambridge; Institute for Public Relations

Lars Rademacher

University of Applied Sciences Darmstadt

Anna Weber

MHMK - University for Media and Communication, Cologne

Date Written: October 1, 2015


From the earliest days of PR history, PR professionals have restricted their specific contribution to the communicator’s role; they saw themselves as experts in storytelling, in ‘packaging’ the corporate mission or politics, rather than rooting their own activities deep in the heart of strategy definition and development. This was partly due to the fact that many senior PR professionals had a background in journalism rather than business administration or management. Over time, however, alongside the emergence of the widespread claim to be communication executives who wish to be part of corporate top level management, the role of the communication professionals has expanded: from communication expert to “business advisor” and “business counselor” or “business partner” (Ragas & Culp 2015: xxi; xxii).

Skimming through the academic and vocational literature published since the beginning of the current century, one could get the slight impression that being a businessperson is becoming even more important for a communicator than anything else (Zerfass et al. 2014). According to IPR (2003: 2) it is vital “that public relations speak the language of the business plan to deliver the business objectives”. One of the authors of this paper has even developed a differentiation between “classical PR professional”, “modern PR professional” and “management orientated communicator”, the last one being more a “normal” manager with special communication competencies (Sievert & Westermann 2008: 225). Nevertheless, communication subjects have still not truly been embedded in business programs and vice versa, despite Kotler and Mindak’s (1978) wake-up call. The few changes that actually took place are focused on executive education (MBA programs, certificates), most undergraduate programs only include very basic business knowledge.

But are these business and management competencies like taught in MBA programs really the main drivers for communication managers’ success? Or in others words: does more business knowledge actually improve the success of communication managers?

As a first step we need to agree on relevant indicators for success for professional communicators. These could be enhanced professional standards, individual progress on the career path, cross-department careers or ranking points in internal audits. On the other hand, the evaluation of communication outcomes could be taken into account. The authors of this paper deliberately look at both aspects: becoming more managerial in communications and integrating the communication function into general management processes. The approach of this paper handles these questions with a research design that combines two levels: (1) On a more qualitative level, the authors draw on self-evaluation (interviews) of ten business program alumni of various German and Austrian universities, especially MBA programs, who are currently in communication functions. (2) On another more quantitative level, the authors compare this data with an online survey of 751 PR professionals, asking them about their academic educational backgrounds and how useful they find which part of it in their own experience, and what kind of experience they are still lacking in the business field.

The purpose of this paper is to present the results of a qualitative and quantitative investigation on the interrelation of business knowledge and success in the professional contexts of German communication experts.

Keywords: PR, Communication, business knowledge, education, training

JEL Classification: I2, Z00

Suggested Citation

Sievert, Holger and Rademacher, Lars and Weber, Anna, Does Business Knowledge Really Improve the Success of Communication Managers? (October 1, 2015). EUPRERA Annual Congress 2015, BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo, October 1-3, 2015 . Available at SSRN:

Holger Sievert (Contact Author)

Macromedia University ( email )

Head of Media School
Bruederstr. 17
Cologne, 50667


Technische Universitaet Munchen (TUM)

Arcisstr. 21
Munich, 88045


University of Cambridge

Churchill College
Storey's Way
Cambridge, CB3 0DS
United Kingdom


Institute for Public Relations

PO Box 118400
2096 Weimer Hall
Gainesville, FL 32611.8400
United States


Lars Rademacher

University of Applied Sciences Darmstadt ( email )

Dieburg, 64807

Anna Weber

MHMK - University for Media and Communication, Cologne ( email )

Richmodstrasse 10

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