About Rebecca Weintraub, Ph.D.: Rebecca Weintraub is a Clinical Professor of Communication at the University of Southern California’s (USC) Annenberg School for Communication, where she also serves as the Director of the Master of Communication Management program. As Director, Dr. Weintraub advises students in the program, connects them with resources within and outside of the University, and collaborates with her colleagues to develop and update the curriculum. She also teaches numerous courses in the program, and specializes in organizational communication and communication management.
Prior to her role at USC, Dr. Weintraub worked as a communication coach for executives at organizations in both the private and public sectors. As founder of her own communication consultancy Weintraub Communication, she provides management coaching, public speaking and speech writing guidance, and executive leadership training. She also worked for more than 15 years as the Director of Corporate Communication at Hughes Electronics.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we have an overview of your responsibilities as Director of the Master of Communication Management program at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism? Also, how did you first get involved in the field of organizational and management communication?
[Dr. Weintraub] I began my career in communication as a debate coach. I was a debater as an undergraduate, and earned my master’s degree in debate. I expected to go to law school, but decided that I really enjoyed teaching and coaching people. So I decided to go for my PhD in Communication, which I got from USC, and subsequently taught for several years in higher education before deciding I wanted to try something new. I had the opportunity to join an aerospace company called Hughes Aircraft which later became Hughes Electronics, and to my surprise I really liked being in the corporate world, and I stayed there for about 15 years, eventually moving into the role of the Director of Corporate Communication. However, the aerospace industry was changing and the company was divesting a lot of its pieces, so I decided to try a different path.
I got a call from a recruiter about a consulting company looking for people like me, and I decided to take that opportunity to try something new. I thoroughly enjoyed consulting, but I did not necessarily like being in a large consulting firm.
And so I decided to see if I could find something else and while I was in the process of doing that, I talked to several of my friends at USC and what was supposed to be a conversation about adjunct teaching became an opportunity for a full-time job, which I thought I would do for a couple of years but then probably go back into the corporate world. And now it has been nineteen years since I returned to USC and am now a Clinical Professor of Communication. What my friends referred to as my retirement career has become my longest single stint at any institution or organization!
During my time working in and teaching about organizational and strategic communication, I have found that people have a tendency to think about communication in terms of functions, the people whose job it is to communicate with various stakeholders. What I’ve come to believe is that communication is one of the most critical elements of an organization—indeed, it is the foundation of an organization. If you think of communication as a process, as the way everything gets done within an organization, and the way that organizations negotiate their relationships with all of their internal and external stakeholders, the value of a strong communications strategy becomes evident.
In my role as Director of the Master’s in Communication Management, I teach several courses in the program and also handle a lot of administrative responsibilities. For the on-campus program, I teach courses in consulting, strategic communication, and our core class which is focused on an overview of organizational communication, beginning with communication at the individual level before examining it at the group level and ultimately the organization level.
In addition to my responsibilities at USC, I do a lot of executive education, coaching, and facilitation through consulting engagements, both within the university and outside. This entails facilitating the communication process within organizations of all types, and understanding that flow is something I am very interested in.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of the University of Southern California (USC), Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism’s Master of Communication Management program, and how it is structured? What are the key learning outcomes that students can expect from this program?
[Dr. Weintraub] The Master of Communication Management program is a professional management degree with a focus on communication. I could compare it to an MBA program in that it prepares students to assume leadership roles in corporations and other large organizations by giving them a strong understanding of the dynamics within an organization (and between an organization and stakeholders) and how to optimize them through communication. However, it is distinct from an MBA because we focus on communication as our point of view in a variety of areas such as marketing communication, impacts of new digital communication technologies, entertainment management and health and social change.
The requirements to graduate are a foundational course in methods (Uses of Communication Research), a foundational course in communication concepts (Communication Pro-Seminar), and a capstone experience that gives students a variety of options.
In CMGT 540, students learn basic research methods, experiments, content analysis, surveys and focus groups. They also learn how to use SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) to crunch data. In the Communication Pro-Seminar, students learn the foundational theories and principles that are relevant to communication management, and also receive an introductory overview of all the areas of specialization that are possible in our program, and their connection to industry. The capstone can be a capstone class in the student’s area of interest or a practicum project. Outside of these required classes, students have the flexibility to take classes that match their interests and career goals.
We have areas of focus in Marketing Communication, Media & Entertainment Management, Health & Social Change Communication, New Digital Communication Technologies, and Organizational & Strategic Communication. These are not specializations but rather areas of focus so students graduate with the knowledge and experience they need for their desired career. There are no requirements to align themselves with a singular track in the program. However, it is generally good for students to build out one or more areas of expertise, and we help guide them in doing so not only through the established areas of focus but also through one-on-one mentorship.
Many of our students have a foot in two tracks, and that is a good approach because the areas often overlap in productive ways. For example, a student might be studying organizational communication and marketing, which at times go hand in hand, especially in communication leadership positions. Many of our students take classes in entertainment management and marketing communication. Some of our students will combine classes in social change communication with entertainment management, because they are interested in what is referred to as “edutainment,” or using media to educate people and drive change.
We have a core group of five faculty members who do advising for students and we feel that is an extremely important piece. We try to guide students away from just taking classes solely because they heard good things about a particular class, but rather to take a more intentional, strategic approach. We have them ask themselves, “What do I want to do once I graduate? What is it that my background covers, and what are the gaps in my training and education? What do I need to build on?”
I lead the strategic and organizational communication track. The courses within this track examine change management, corporate communication, communication in work settings, and evaluating communication needs through communication audits. Courses in this track prepare students to go into corporate communication, consulting, change management and strategy, and areas such as that.
Entertainment management looks at the entertainment field but also looks at the changing platforms, what was usually referred to as convergence. How entertainment enters the public stream. For example, we no longer have just three or four over-the-air channels. Content creation and delivery platforms are evolving at a fantastic rate and our students study the impact and implications of these changes to pretty much any media and communication industry. They learn to look around the corner and understand what the impacts will be at every conceivable level.
Students who are interested in this track sometimes want to go into the creative side of entertainment, although we do not really prepare them for that. We are not a film production program, and so we are much more likely to prepare students to go into content creation from the communication perspective and the ways organizations or individuals can use these different content creation processes. Students in this track look at the entertainment industry globally. A lot of our students are international, and are going back to their native countries to work at their respective entertainment companies, and they learn about the U.S. entertainment industry to help them.
Marketing communication is by far our largest set of offerings. In classes for the marketing tack, we look at a wide range of marketing and marketing communication forms. We examine and work with digital marketing, storytelling as a marketing tool, global marketing, the branding and the creation of organizational identities, and how to gather and use consumer research data to inform advertising and marketing strategies. Students also take classes around the tools of market research, and we have students go into advanced marketing communication research, which is an important and growing area, and there are not a lot of programs that actually prepare students to do that. This is a data-centric world and our students are well prepared to engage in it.
Health and social change communication is a smaller offering because students usually combine courses in this focus with classes in other tracks. In classes for this area of focus we explore how to create social campaigns, and how entertainment and other forms of media can help drive behavior change. We also look at how communication technologies are assisting health and social initiatives internationally. Many of the classes in this area straddle the line between our health and social change and our international and intercultural communication tracks. We also teach classes around traditional health communication, patient provider communication, public health communication, and other elements.
International and intercultural communication provides courses that prepare students to work in global media corporations and to also manage communications for organizations that have global reach, from government bodies to companies and non-profits. As mentioned previously, students can take classes that investigate the impact and efficacy of new communication technologies in the global arena, and also learn how to develop and oversee international communication initiatives, such as global marketing or international entertainment, as well as international health and social service initiatives.
For the new communication technologies focus, we not only introduce students to the latest technologies in the space, but also guide them through thinking about how these technologies are reshaping communication strategies across a variety of contexts. What we try to do is have students not just look around the corner, by which I mean be cognizant of the latest technologies today, although obviously that’s a place to start. We also want them to look towards the horizon, and ask themselves, “What is coming down the line, farther in the future? What does that mean for my industry, and how will short term and long term strategies change?”
[MastersinCommunications.com] The Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism also offers an online Master of Communication Management program. Could you please elaborate on this program, and how its structure and course content differ from those of the campus program? Furthermore, what online learning technologies does this program use to facilitate student engagement with faculty and peers?
[Dr. Weintraub] The Master’s in Communication Management was the first degree offered by the Annenberg School back in the 70s, and at that time, the latest technology was cable. And since then we have made a lot of changes, but this program was always designed to be a program for working professionals, with classes offered largely in the evening and coursework that provides concrete strategies and insights that students can apply immediately in industry.
Decades ago when we first started, the Los Angeles corporate landscape was very accommodating of people taking time to go to graduate school to hone their skills and credentials. And what happened over the past 40 years was that the Los Angeles market changed—fewer corporate headquarters, and fewer company programs that allowed working professionals to take time off work to pursue their graduate education. As this was happening, technology caught up and was able to make on-line programs, not only doable, but also an advantageous learning experience with interactive elements. I created my Strategic Communication class in on-line format in 2003, and we taught that on-campus as our only on-line offering. I’d been wanting to do an on-line version of the Master’s Degree for years. Finally in 2011, everything caught up and the University was encouraging us to create on-line Master’s programs, and so the Communication Management program was an obvious choice for the Annenberg School.
I was lucky that my faculty team jumped at the chance to embrace this new delivery system. We have a passion for teaching working professionals, and if they couldn’t come to us, we knew we needed to go to them. Given the current landscape, we understand that many of our students, as working professionals, cannot necessarily just pick up and come to Los Angeles for 21 months of graduate school. In contrast to our campus-based program, which has a high proportion of students who are recently out of undergrad, the student body for our online Master of Communication Management tend to be experienced working professionals who need to layer in their coursework with their professional responsibilities and family obligations.
As such, the curriculum for the online program is a little different from our on-campus program. Students take classes in marketing communication, and strategic and organizational communication, as well as a research methods course and a capstone. The reason we offer a more structured program is twofold: 1) we offer a narrower range of course options so that we can devote a lot of resources to ensure each class has quality instruction and sufficient student support, and 2) we’ve found that our online students are somewhat different from our on-campus cohorts in that they prefer having a more set curriculum where they know what to expect, and know what their time commitment for the degree will be.
In their first semester, the online students take the research methods class Uses of Communication Research (just as the on -campus program does), and a core organizational communication class. Their next two semesters, in whatever order they happen to be offered, students take classes in marketing communication, global marketing, strategic communication, and communication for strategy and change. They take their capstone/or practicum in their final semester just as the on-campus students do. Students have some flexibility in terms of the classes they use to complete their program requirements.
The online program is designed to be primarily asynchronous, and is largely project-based, balancing individual work and collaboration. Students are assigned to groups, and they organize their work themselves. They create a contract, so that they have a way of resolving differences and approaches, and they communicate using everything from Google Hangout and shared Documents to Skype and telecom. Their remote collaboration is an important part of the program, in that it emulates what a lot of professionals face in the workplace—many organizations are dispersed and people often work in groups on projects with teammates who are not in the same office, maybe not even on the same continent. All of our faculty host live sessions using the webinar system Zoom. Faculty are required to host at least one live session during the term, but many faculty members do more as our students love the opportunity to connect with faculty. And in some classes, there is a required synchronous class at the end of the semester when groups present their projects.
One of our faculty members, for example, has one every week. She makes them optional to accommodate students’ residence in different time zones, and they are recorded so that students can view them on their own time if they want. In the online class that I teach, I host four live sessions over the course of 15 weeks, and my section instructors also do four. During these sessions, we do a deeper dive into content that we think students will sometimes struggle with, and if students cannot attend we make sure they can access the content asynchronously. Our faculty members use their live sessions differently. Faculty use it to add new information to their established curriculum, or to bring in recent developments in the field, or to answer questions that students have about a particular topic, or, as in my case Open Mic Night to foster a dynamic and unstructured conversation.
For students who cannot attend, we record the sessions and so that they can listen to them on the way home from work as they would a podcast; we tend to do them between 5:30 and 6:30 during the week as that seems to work for most time zones, and the vast majority of our students are in the continental United States.
What we have learned through our work in online education is that, in many cases, the work product and learning outcomes can be better in online. With online instruction, interactivity and group projects are prioritized, and the fact that students can cover the course material at their own pace can make for a more efficient learning experience than attending lectures over a 15 week period. In fact, the online curriculum has worked so well that I, and others of my colleagues, have begun incorporating the online coursework into our on-campus classes in what is called a flipped classroom. Students go through the online modules as their homework, and then come to class to discuss what they have learned and to examine case studies or do group work or present group projects.
To create more opportunities for our online students to connect with each other, we also offer optional events during the course of the semester for them to come to USC. One is for homecoming weekend and we have a cocktail reception for current students as well as alumni. The evening before commencement, we have a barbecue for the graduates and their families. So for a lot of our students, homecoming is the first time they meet each other in person, and I can only say it reminds me of my high school reunions. You will hear a scream and a name and see two or three people rushing from across the room to throw their arms around each other as they see their cohort friends in person for the first time.
We’ve had people from our online cohorts find jobs for each other as well. One woman who comes to mind helped a friend from her online classes stay with her so that she could move from the east coast and connect with potential employers in the Bay Area. The relationships that students form in the online program are incredible, and stand the test of time, expanding graduates’ social and professional network.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students of USC’s Master of Communication Management program must complete a capstone. Could you elaborate on this project requirement?
[Dr. Weintraub] Most students take a capstone class that integrates all they have learned and researched. It gives them a deep dive into the subject and they combine original and academic research for their final paper or project. Some students take the capstone practicum. In this option they work with faculty around a topic of their choosing. While all practicums incorporate academic literature, original research, and a final product, the topics vary. Students can do a consulting project for their current or prospective place of employment, or a white paper, or even a traditional thesis or academic research paper that investigates a communication phenomenon.
Some students have an entrepreneurial bent and they want to prepare themselves to go into an entrepreneurial start-up, and so they can work on and present a plan for that to faculty. Other students do marketing campaigns, while still others write chapters for a book as well as a prospectus that details how they will talk to a potential publisher. Students work on their capstone project over the course of two semesters with two 2-unit classes, so they have a lot of faculty support and also peer support as they progress through the different stages of their projects. We support them in making partnerships with organizations that do work that interests them, and we structure the capstone courses so that they submit project proposals and drafts for feedback on a regular basis to keep them accountable and on track.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in USC’s Master of Communication Management program? Independent of faculty instruction and support, what career development resources and academic services are available to students of both the campus and online programs, and how can they make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems while in the program?
[Dr. Weintraub] While students in our program are not assigned a faculty advisor, they connect with faculty throughout their tenure in the program, and often gravitate towards faculty mentors based on their areas of expertise. For example, I tend to attract the students who are interested in consulting and working in organizations. They will set up an appointment, and we will spend an hour or so together, talking about their interests. I’ve been in Los Angeles my entire life, and my Rolodex is pretty extensive, and so I will often make sure students are introduced to people whom I think would be good resources and contacts for them, people I know who are delighted to have the opportunity to talk to students.
This informal form of mentorship extends beyond the program, and students are welcome to reach out to us long after they have graduated. Yesterday I had lunch with a student who graduated in 2006 who has started to do her own consulting work and has decided she wants to really grow that, and so we met for lunch and caught up, and then talked about strategies for expanding her client base.
In terms of networking, we have a career services organization that provides career development services, but faculty in our department also provide informal career services to our students. We connect them with opportunities we hear about from companies in the area, and also help counsel them through the job application process.
Finally, the alumni network for our program also serves as a fantastic resource for current and past students. The alumni network is referred to as the Trojan Family, and it is one of USC’s strongest advantages. We have alumni groups all over the world, and I’ve always encouraged students to join the one closest to them, to go to the events, to go to the football watching parties, etc. because people within the USC alumni network are very motivated to help, to network, to mentor our students and our graduates.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For students interested in USC’s Master of Communication Management program, what advice do you have for submitting a competitive application? Are the application requirements the same for the campus and online programs?
[Dr. Weintraub] For students who are applying with less than 10 years of work experience, we do require the GRE. We also look at their GPA. The University’s general GPA minimum is 3.0 though we often look for a GPA that is higher than that, especially for our applicants who are recently out of undergrad. That said, we have a lot of applicants who have been in the workforce for 10, 20, even 30 years and for them, GPA is not as illustrative of their qualifications as their work experience. For our online students who have more than 10 years’ work experience we won’t require the GRE, but if we have concerns about their academic background, we might suggest that they have a better chance of getting in if they take it.
For letters of recommendation, an academic letter of recommendation is ideal for applicants who are more recently in school. However, we will also accept one or two from supervisors or managers at students’ place of employment, especially if an applicant has been out of school for a number of years.
The statement of purpose is one of the most important components of the application. That plus the letters of recommendation give us an idea of the applicant’s work ethic, his or her drive, and what they will gain from and contribute to the program. We also look for students who are a good fit for our program, meaning that their interests and goals match well with what we can provide. Sometimes we get a student, for example, who really wants to go to the film school and become a film maker, and we don’t accept these students because we really will not give them what they want from graduate school. We don’t replace the cinema school, and we don’t focus on production, or script writing, or film criticism.
We also get a lot of students who are interested in getting an MBA and see our program as analogous to that. While our students compete very effectively with MBA graduates, we want to make sure applicants understand that we are a communication management program specifically, and so we don’t cover the same subjects found in MBA programs. We cover business development, marketing, media and entertainment and organizational management as they relate to the wide-ranging communication discipline. So in their personal statement, students should do the work of connecting their goals and interests to the kind of courses we offer. In addition, as we are communication focused and therefore writing intensive program, we expect the personal statement to be pitch perfect. There should be no grammatical errors. It should reflect critical thinking, and have strong organizational structure. Basically, it should get us excited about having them in our program.
Another piece of advice I would give is to reach out to us even before you submit your application. Students are always welcome to reach out to me or to other members of our faculty to talk about the program and their interest in it. We can provide them with valuable information about the program and what it offers. We also have recruiting sessions on campus as well as information sessions online.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes USC’s Master of Communication Management program unique, and a particularly strong graduate option for students?
[Dr. Weintraub] The expertise and commitment of our faculty stands out as one of the first and foremost reasons to come to our program. All of our online section instructors have doctorates and full-time faculty have doctorates, and this is I believe one of the differentiators between our program and other programs. In addition to having advanced training in our field, we are all connected to our communities of practice whether that is marketing communication, corporate communication, consulting, entertainment or market research. We believe all of this results in far better learning outcomes whether the student is in the online program or on-campus.
The vast majority of our faculty are full-time faculty, and for our part-time faculty we hire people whom we feel have been extremely successful and leaders in their field. They have experience they can translate into teaching and mentoring students. We also support our full-time and adjunct faculty from the very beginning of their time with us, which helps them bring their best to the classroom. We work with them on their course curriculum, and make sure they have the skills to excel as instructors. I think that that is our secret sauce—our faculty are advanced scholars in their field, and are always connected to their chosen industry. In addition, they have the training and the support to teach and empower students, while also developing themselves professionally (which translates into better learning outcomes for students as well).
As a team, our faculty and staff are always looking for how to improve our program. We have a track leader for each of the areas of focus, and we work with the people in our track, to make sure that they we are not overlapping in our course content, and to discuss developments in the industry. We do regular strategic reviews to make sure we’re attuned to what industry needs and our students want. Many of the classes we add to the program are a result of these strategic reviews, which include industry and student feedback. Students let us know their interests and the market lets us know their needs, then we make adjustments and additions to our course offerings. That is how our marketing track got to be one of the biggest areas of focus for our program, for example.
All of our faculty members care about what this program enables our students to do. While we provide a wealth of support and resources to students, we also know when and how much to push them so that they can discover and realize their potential. We are very cognizant of the fact that students are paying a lot of money for this program and we are committed to making sure that they get their money’s worth, and that sometimes means pushing them just a bit harder than they expected. They graduate grateful for that push, I might add.
I also think one of our biggest advantages is our legacy and history as a program. We were the first of our kind, both on-line in 2011 and on campus in 1974. And as a result, we have a lot of success and experience behind us. We have seen the industry undergo so very many changes, and we’ve stayed abreast of them. This has helped us grow strategically and given us a long-sightedness and an understanding of the communication management and strategic communication fields that other, younger programs might lack.
And I think one of the other things that we do that makes us stand out is we’re willing to experiment. I won’t pretend that every experiment we try is successful, but we learn from it and adapt. I have faculty who are early adopters of technology, who are inquisitive and curious. We are constantly looking for ways to improve our classes, and enhance the student experience and subsequent outcomes.
Whenever possible, we bring industry projects and practitioners into the classroom to enhance students’ learning experience. In one of our strategic communication classes we partner with the corporate communication and marketing department of a very large Fortune 200 company called AECOM. Their Chief Communication and Chief Marketing Officer happens to be a graduate of our program, and who has become a very good friend. Their senior communication leaders participate with our students in the course content and we have learned that both student and leader are enriched.
We also regularly host panel discussions where we bring in people who manage communication at large companies. Examples of people we have hosted include vice-presidents of employee communication, crisis communication specialists, human resources managers, business development strategists, and marketing managers.
We benefit from being a part of the Annenberg School, which is the number one communication school in the country, and when you have that behind you, it makes for an incredibly powerful program.
Thank you, Dr. Weintraub, for your excellent insight into the University of Southern California’s Master of Communication Management program!