Business Basics Learned at MBA Day Camp
By Tony Monterastelli
We business communicators are an educated lot. Armed with degrees in journalism, English, communications, public relations or the liberal arts and real-world experience, most of us understand communication, but how well do we understand the business part?
How well do we understand business strategy and marketing? Do we know the difference between a balance sheet and an income statement? Do the CEOs, vice presidents and other executives who we work for see us as knowledgeable consultants on business communications issues? Or, in their eyes, are we simply journeymen who churn out newsletters, press releases and Web copy without understanding or participating in real business issues? Of course, most of us would rather be seen as business-savvy communicators, rather than simply as communications-savvy worker bees.
At times, when we feel we’re falling behind in understanding business issues, some of us think about going back to school to get the Master’s in Business Administration degree (MBA). With each new semester, many a communicator takes this path. But before any professional communicator spends thousands of dollars on MBA school, he should know that all MBA programs are largely the same.
From Chicago to Shanghai, MBA students around the world study an essentially standardized curriculum. What if we could pick up the basics in one afternoon? Would the degree be necessary for most of us? I thought about this issue when I attended the MBA Day Camp here in Chicago, a one-day seminar intended to impart the most important concepts that MBA students learn in two or three years. In my view, the MBA Day Camp accomplishes its mission, thanks to an elegantly designed curriculum delivered during one enlightening day of classroom discussion.
Every MBA curriculum breaks down into four components – strategy, marketing, accounting and finance. Here’s a slice of what I learned in MBA Day Camp:
Strategy: Three strategic frameworks are currently in vogue at MBA schools:
• P.E.S.T. (political, economic, social, technological);
• Harvard professor Michael Porter’s “5 Forces”;
• SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats).
The most important thing I learned about business strategy is what it is not. No matter which framework we use to break down a company’s strategy, a business strategy is not about innovation or customer satisfaction or empowering individuals or virtually any of the other non-monetary concepts that are bandied about in the business media. A business strategy is about one thing: making money. This lesson reinforced to me that – as a professional business communicator – I must be aware that a company’s communications efforts (newsletters, publications, reports, Web site, etc.) should support the underlying goal of making money.
Marketing: Marketing is best learned through studying business cases and, like nearly everything else in business, it is not an exact science. Yet a surprising amount of objective, verifiable quantitative thinking goes into corporate marketing efforts. Marketing is more than advertising. In most firms, marketing plays a tactical role in sales, advertising, public relations and nearly every contact point between the company and its potential customers. The basic building block of marketing is a story. Marketing is the company’s effort to tell its story to the public or to its target audience in a compelling way. You may not have heard of the Ford Ka, a compact car introduced in Europe in the mid-1990s. Ford successfully launched the car by appealing to the needs of a Europeans who had previous driven cars from Renault, Opel, Peugeot and Volkswagon.
Accounting and finance: In the lifetime of any business, accounting covers what has happened in the past, while finance deals with what will happen in the future. The role of accounting is to summarize a company’s financial condition at a specific point in the past. When a company goes over the cost of goods sold during the first quarter of 2006, this is accounting, whereas finance deals largely with the time value of money. In general, a dollar earned today is more valuable than a dollar earned next year, because today’s dollar can be invested in new products, facilities or in financial instruments to make more money. Every action or project taken by a company should be evaluated in financial terms. Finance also involves the inexact science of valuing a company for investment purposes. As we see with the stock market, the value of a company to investors is often open to debate, and investors are continually buying and selling shares in companies as they reevaluate company valuations.
I recommend the MBA Day Camp for any business communicator. Even if you have decided to go back to school, the camp offers a good overview of what you will be learning. Otherwise, the camp should help any communicator sharpen her business acumen. Fellow students in the class I attended included consultants, finance professionals, engineers and others. There were no other communications professionals in the session I attended, which suggests that more communicators should attend this class. For more information on MBA Day Camp, visit www.mbadaycamp.com.
Tony Monterastelli is manager of resource development and publications editor at the Strategic Account Management Association (www.strategicaccounts.org). He can be reached at 773-852-2234 or firstname.lastname@example.org.