Strategic or corporate communication represents an applied and interdisciplinary communication field in which the theories and tools of communication and management are used to direct and coordinate public messaging, business and media relations, and branding concerns for businesses and other organizations. Professionals in the field of strategic communication design and implement policies and campaigns aimed at furthering the long-term goals and interests of companies, non-profit groups, government agencies, and other entities for which controlling the flow of information to the public and to other groups is a concern. Working in this field typically requires strong written and verbal communication and presentation skills, an understanding of organizational dynamics and corporate cultures, and knowledge of modern media technologies and communication research methodologies.
A master’s in strategic or corporate communication program is a graduate program that prepares students for the challenges of managing the broad and varied communication needs of businesses and other types of organizations and that confers a master’s-level degree. While many of these programs are clearly designated as strategic and/or corporate communication master’s programs, there are master’s in communication management and master’s in organizational communication programs that offer a strategic communication curriculum, and there are similarly structured master’s in communication programs with specializations/concentrations in strategic and corporate communication. What these programs have in common is a curriculum that teaches students how to utilize accepted theories of interpersonal communication and organizational science to assess an entity’s communication needs and implement integrated, long-term strategies designed to meet those needs.
Note: Depending on the curriculum, there can be signification overlap between master’s in strategic communication and master’s in integrated marketing communications (IMC) programs as well.
As an alternative to traditional, campus-based master’s in strategic and corporate communication programs, there are online programs that offer training and instruction in strategic communication using distance-learning technologies. Students in an online program complete all or most of their coursework by logging on to a program’s learning management system (LMS). An LMS is an Internet-based platform that facilitates the various components of online instruction, from streaming real-time and/or pre-recorded lectures and presentations, to hosting discussion forums and class-related learning activities and exercises. Students in an online program typically communication with instructors and submit assignments through the program’s LMS and are able to complete their degree without having to relocate or commute to a college or university campus.
OnlineEducation.com researches master’s in communication programs and identifies programs with a strategic or corporate communication curriculum that offer all or most of their coursework online. These programs must be offered by regionally accredited, non-profit colleges and universities, and must not require students to attend more than two campus-based learning sessions per year. Programs that require students to be on campus more than two times per year are classified as hybrid programs and not currently listed on the site. Among the programs classified as online master’s in strategic and corporate communication programs are programs with the following designations:
Master’s-level curricula in corporate communication typically include some foundational instruction in communication theory and science followed by coursework that defines strategic communication and explores its processes and specific aspects of its practice. Students in these programs cultivate written and verbal communication skills and learn how to produce creative and persuasive content for a variety of media. They study various facets of business communication, which may include public and media relations, advertising and marketing, and personnel management, and learn about the history and evolution of strategic communication through case studies and analyses.
In addition, these programs generally require students to take courses in communication research methodologies, media law, and the ethical dimensions of business communication. Finally, students may take required or elective courses that cover topics such strategic marketing, public and media relations, international and cross-cultural communication, digital and social media communication, fundraising and investor relations, crisis management, and/or negotiation and mediation strategies. Some online master’s in strategic communication programs culminate in a capstone project that challenges students to apply what they have learned to a real-world strategic communication issue or problem.
The table below provides a representative overview of the types of courses commonly taken by students in an online master’s programs with a strategic communication curriculum. It is important to note that curricula vary by program, as do course titles and descriptions.
|Course Title||Course Description|
|Principles of Strategic Communication||An examination of communication campaigns, public opinion, the media, audience identification, message development, and the ethics of persuasion in the context of developing a strategic approach to corporate communication.|
|Communication Theory||An exploration of theoretical and conceptual frameworks for understanding public discourse, interpersonal communication, and mass media.|
|Communication, Attitudes, Values, & Behavior||An examination of social influence processes, media narratives, and how they impact decision-making, public attitudes, and consumer behavior, with an emphasis on theories that explain the successes and failures of media campaigns.|
|Applied Communication Research||An exploration of quantitative and qualitative research methods in the field of communication and how communication research is used to formulate communication strategies.|
|Writing for Strategic Communication||The relationship between audience, message structure, and medium in the creation of various types of content, including news releases, speeches, and multi- and new-media products.|
|Strategic Corporate Communication||The formulation and implementation of data-driven communication strategies for corporations, publicly held companies, and non-profit organizations, with a focus on public and stakeholder perception.|
|Social Media Strategies & Tactics||Search-engine marketing, mobile communications, and social-media platforms in the context of strategic communication.|
|Strategic Communication & Ethics||Topics include: legal standards and ethical considerations in strategic communication; ethical decision-making models; the relationship between ethical communication strategies and public perception; and the legal and ethical issues related to communicating potential risk to the public.|
|Workplace Communication||An examination of theories and case studies in organizational culture and its relationship to effective personnel management, workplace productivity, and the implementation of effective internal communication strategies.|
|Communication Strategy & Change||The role of communication in implementing business strategies, with a focus on theories of organizational change and case studies in organizational politics and leadership.|
|Integrated Communications Strategies||The elements of a successful integrated communication strategy, including situation analysis, consumer research, branding, campaign objectives, creative strategy, promotion strategy, media strategy, public relations, and campaign management and evaluation.|
Admissions policies and procedures for online master’s in strategic and corporate communication programs vary by program. Eligibility for admission is generally extended to candidates who hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Some programs may prefer candidates with a certain number of years of professional experience in a communication field and/or a minimum cumulative undergraduate grade point average (GPA) of 2.5, 3.0, or higher, and there are programs that require applicants to meet one or both of these standards.
In addition to undergraduate transcripts, applicants to online master’s in strategic communication programs may be asked to furnish one or more of the following: GRE test scores; two or three letters of recommendation; a short personal goals statement; answers to one or two essay questions. Finally, some program may request a phone or video-conferencing interview with candidates who are being considered for admission.
Many online master’s in strategic communication programs are fully online and do not require students to attend in-person sessions on campus or at third-party locations. However, some online programs require one or two campus visits per year. This is one of several factors that can impact the relative convenience and flexibility of an online program. Two other variables that potential applicants to online programs may want to consider are enrollment options (part-time vs. full-time enrollment) and instructional methods (synchronous vs. asynchronous instruction). Each of these factors is addressed below.
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: Synchronous instruction is a mode of online course delivery that includes a real-time component and requires students to be logged on to a program’s LMS at specific times in order to view lectures and/or participate in class activities. In contrast, asynchronous instruction provides students with on-demand access to lectures and course materials and does not involve scheduled class meeting times. While asynchronous instruction offers more flexibility than synchronous instruction, it is typically best suited for students who are disciplined and self-motivated enough to keep up with lectures and assignments. Synchronous instruction provides more structure than asynchronous instruction, but it can lead to scheduling conflicts. Students who are concerned about scheduling conflicts may want to look for programs that utilize asynchronous instruction. Students who would prefer a more structured online learning experience may want to consider programs that utilize synchronous instruction.
Part-Time vs. Full-Time Enrollment: A typical master’s program includes roughly two years or four semesters of required coursework. However, the actual time it takes to complete an online master’s in strategic or corporate communication program depends on a number of factors, including how many courses students are able to complete per term. Some online programs are designed for full-time enrollment and offer classes three or more times per year, allowing students who can complete a full-time course load to graduate in one-to-two years. There are also programs that are designed for part-time enrollment, which allows students to spend less time per week on coursework. Students in a part-time program may take two-to-three or more years to graduate. Finally, some online programs have flexible enrollment, allowing students to choose the number of courses they take per term provided they complete their degree requirements within a certain number of years.
Campus Visits: While the majority of online master’s in strategic and corporate communication programs are 100% online, some programs require students to attend a limited number of campus-based sessions while earning their degree. Campus visits, sometimes referred to as immersion sessions, residencies, or intensives, can be a valuable addition to an online degree program. They give students an opportunity to meet fact-to-face with instructors and may include orientations, live lectures, workshops, seminars, and other learning activities. These sessions are typically short, lasting for as few as two or three days to as long as a week-to-ten days. However, they require travel, which may be difficult for some online students. Potential applicants to online master’s programs should examine program curricula carefully prior to submitting an application in order to determine whether or not a program requires campus visits. OnlineEducation.com does not list online master’s in strategic and corporate communication programs that require more than two campus visits per year.