Mastering Research Impact: Five Questions with author Matt Ragas

At the upcoming Charleston Library Conference, DePaul University Communications Professor and Emerald author Matthew Ragas will appear on the preconference panel, The Future of the Academic Book: Strengthening the Research Ecosystem. In this blog, Matt talks about the real world impact of his research, teaching and book projects. Follow him on Twitter, @mattragas.


Tell us a little bit about yourself and your research

I am a tenured associate professor in the College of Communication at DePaul University in Chicago. DePaul is the largest Catholic university in the US and the largest private university in the Midwest. I am also the academic director of our award-winning public relations and advertising graduate program. For the past four years in a row, PRWeek, a leading trade publication in our field, has named us as one of the top five PR programs nationally.

My research focuses on the effectiveness and performance of corporate communication, including financial media relations, financial communications and investor relations. Tied to this research has been my focus in recent years on increasing the level of financial and business literacy among strategic communications and public relations students and professionals. As PR and communications functions have gained greater responsibility, professionals need to have greater business acumen to be more effective in their role of advising the C-suite and other senior leaders on decision making. I greatly enjoy teaching and developing the future leaders of our profession.

In your latest book, Mastering Business for Strategic Communicators: Insights and Advice from the C-suite of Leading Brands, you and co-author Ron Culp provide an overview of business functions for communications professionals. What were some of the challenges and rewards of working with over 20 chief communicators, CEOs, CFOs and business leaders of global corporations on this project?

In a word, the biggest challenge was: time! When you are working with senior leaders, their most precious commodity is time (and the lack thereof). The willingness of so many top Chief Communications Officers (CCOs) to become contributors to this book speaks well of the field as a whole and its commitment to helping train and develop the next generation of PR and communications leaders.

For Ron and I, beyond simplifying process, procedures and our 'asks' out of respect for our contributors’ time, we raised the bar even further in that we sought sidebar responses to each essay from contributors’ colleagues—more specifically, C-suite leaders like company CEOs, president and CFOs. Looking back, we may have collectively invested more time in this edited book project than when Ron and I co-authored our prior book together, Business Essentials for Strategic Communicators. The reward is in seeing the strong initial positive reaction to the book by both students and professionals at all levels. To me, the best book is a book that gets read and used.

As an academic specializing in linking theory and practice, where do you see the impact of scholarly content in the corporate world? 

Academia is slowly but surely becoming more market-driven and responsive to shifting market demands. Part of living in a global business, media and communications center like Chicago is that I interact with top professionals on a daily basis. They’ve made very clear to me through the years that they feel disconnected from academia and, frankly, the academy doesn’t make strong efforts generally to cross (or bridge) this divide. A great advantage of books is that they can be made accessible in many different formats and they are easy for not just professors and students, but also professionals to learn about and purchase.

Generally speaking, PR and strategic communications academics are more practically oriented and interested in addressing practical challenges than many practitioners may realize. But these two worlds simply don’t talk and interact enough. Given my professional background prior to going back to school for my doctorate, I’ve naturally always been committed to both worlds. Business Essentials was critical in encouraging dialogue among professionals and professors and Mastering Business has the potential to make at least as meaningful an impact in continuing and advancing this conversation.

On the flip-side, as a professor writing books geared toward students, what do you see as their role in inspiring real-world change?

Simply put, students are the future leaders of any field. I have been privileged to teach at DePaul where the PR, advertising and strategic communication industries are right outside our doors here in the Loop (aka downtown Chicago). Many of our students have gone on to careers in agencies, corporations, non-profits and government agencies – and I stay in touch with many of them and they help our current students. As such, as a professor I have gotten to see the impact that a book can have on students’ professional development and giving them a competitive advantage.

Many PR students have a good grounding in communication tools and fundamentals; fewer are savvy about how PR and communications adds value to solving business problems and challenges across the enterprise. Some of my favorite memories are when a current or former student or younger professional reaches out and tells a story about how what they learned in the book translated into help at an internship, job or a specific work project. I love these stories. When you speak at universities, to professional groups, and inside at agencies and companies, you can see and feel from the ensuing discussion the positive impact that your book is having in affecting real-world change and making a difference.

Any thoughts on your next book project?

First, Ron and I are going to catch our breath on this one! More specifically, the next big push for us is on properly getting the word out and promoting Mastering Business. We’ll be doing a range of speaking at events and writing of articles we’ve helped initiate around the book in the months ahead. Looking out a bit further, Business Essentials is due at some point for a second edition. We also have a third book in mind that would fit in nicely to build out a 'trilogy' of sorts. It’s a bit early to go there yet, but I’m sure the book bug will strike again.