In the changing world of journalism, an MBA is a good way to stay in front of the competition, says Sophie Morris.

Sterotypes of media folk are far from the image of your average MBA student. There is the lone journalist, meeting contacts in seedy pubs and bashing at a keyboard into the night. Then there’s the TV executive, a blue skies visionary predicting the next stage of the digital revolution. And what about the dashing foreign correspondent covering distant wars? These couldn’t be further from the finance and management driven people you expect on an MBA course. With technology, though, the media landscape is changing. Within the industry, what is required of staff is changing too, and more of them are choosing to adapt their skills and get ahead in this rapidly diversifying industry by studying for an MBA.

There are no figures to prove it, but business schools report an increasing trend among media companies and journalists wanting to hone their business acumen. BSkyB is happy to hear funding pitches from any of its staff, whether for an MBA or any other qualifications, and generally sponsors around six people at any one time. It is up to individuals to research the courses and find one which suits their needs and timetable best.

Product development manager David Kelly, 30, has recently completed an Executive MBA at Imperial College London which covered technical innovation, and has moved on within his department to work on developing video-on-demand propositions. “Studying for this type of MBA meant I could maintain my existing role while consolidating my business experience,” he explains. “Imperial’s focus on innovation and entrepreneurship had obvious parallels with BSkyB; this has allowed me to add back immediate value to my team and the business at large.” BSkyB would not delete people from an interview shortlist because they lacked an MBA, but the degree would no doubt help them stand out. “We’re looking for people who can demonstrate innovation and can deliver tangible results,” says a spokesperson.

The BBC has historically supported staff interested in doing an MBA, and sent around 300 to Bradford University School of Management. Funding obstacles brought this to an end a few years ago, but it remains supportive of anyone choosing to fund themselves, such as the editor of the new business and economics unit, Jeremy Hillman and a number of high-profile journalists who have been to Cranfield School of Management, including BBC London News reporter Riz Lateef and Ian Watson, the International Director of BBC Worldwide.

How have business school reacted to this growing interest from the media? Dr Allègre L. Hadida, a lecturer in strategy at the Judge Business School at Cambridge, says it is not necessary to create a made-to measure MBA programme for media professionals. “The skill set you learn in a generalist MBA is much more comprehensive. It is useful for media executives to be exposed to other industries, as they can draw analogies and come up with business models that are applicable to the media industry but have not been considered in this specific context yet.” Nick Heller, who graduated from Judge in 2005, agrees. He decided on an MBA after dabbling in his own digital media company. “There is a media-focused elective, so you can tailor the programme to your specific interests and needs,” he says. “But the underlying skills that it takes to run a business don’t change across any business, whether you’re talking about finance or media.” His career break certainly paid off. After the MBA, Heller joined Viacom Networks. A year ago he was hired by Google to work on strategic partnership development in the media & publishing division, EMEA.

Media firms are also realising that MBA programmes can be fertile head-hunting ground. Another Judge student was recruited by Saatchi & Saatchi while attending a creativity workshop run by the school. In recent years Oxford’s Saïd Business School has been running a media and communications summit, which will resume next year. Saïd has taught students with impressive records in the print world, such as Siddharth Nambiar, one of the top three magazine publishers in India, which boasts the fastest growing publishing industry in the world. So can we expect experienced story-getters and inspirational editors to be managed out of a job? Decidedly not: content is still king, but there are now so many types of content within media – print, TV, online, podcasts, vodcasts, video on demand, and more – that the strategic thinking and managerial knowhow won on an MBA should help journalists climb that ladder more quickly.

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