What is the Best MBA Specialization for Creatives & Designers?


On their Grammy-winning album, The Suburbs, The Arcade Fire sang: “The businessmen are drinking my blood, like the kids in art school said they would.” But clinical vampirism, also known as Renfield’s Syndrome, isn’t as prevalent in MBA programs as those lyrics might have listeners believe. The relationship between business and art might be represented better as two fated lovers, like Orpheus and Eurydice, who graced the cover of The Arcade Fire’s follow-up album, Reflektor (which cost an estimated $1.6 million to make).

The line is blurry, and the battles are indeed sometimes bloody, but art and business need each other, and there’s still a chance for a healthy symbiotic relationship. According to The Economist, top business schools are introducing more free-thinking, art-related subjects into their MBA programs. But what about the inverse? How can creatives and designers apply the business management skills of an MBA program back into their more free-minded career?

For many, the answer lies in finding the proper specialization. The Harvard Business School blog highlights five key business skills for creatives: collaboration, versatility, communication, entrepreneurship, and trend identification. An MBA program ticks all those boxes, and a particular specialization can further tailor one’s education to the creative direction that one desires to tread. Whether you want to sell your own art or help sell someone else’s, the MBA specializations below can give you a head start.

MBA in Digital Marketing and Social Media

It’s a new world for creatives and designers. On-demand streaming now represents 85 percent of all music consumption in the US. Netflix, a video streaming service, earned 24 nominations for the Oscars in 2020, more than any traditional studio. Digital platforms are how most people consume creative products now, and it’s how they’re finding them, too, with social media increasingly becoming the go-to place where people shop, discover, and interact.

For creatives and designers who want to learn the language, an MBA in digital marketing and social media is a hot ticket. The Rutgers MBA, for example, has an option to specialize in digital marketing. In addition to the core MBA curriculum, students take four classes: marketing management, digital marketing strategy, strategic marketing analytics, and social media strategy. Graduates learn how to perform data analytics and craft digital marketing campaigns that integrate with both social media and broader branding strategies.

MBA in Entrepreneurship

If they wish to make a living doing what they love, then at some point a creative or designer has to hand their product off to an entrepreneur. Unless, of course, said creative/designer has the skills to be an entrepreneur themselves. And it’s never been easier. According to Forbes, the world is experiencing an explosion of entrepreneurship, largely due to the accessibility of digital channels and the increased ability to network. Designers can now start their own shops on Instagram and Etsy at little cost to themselves. But to turn those shops into successes will often require a robust business skill set.

MBA programs have long been a good match for entrepreneurs—and it’s a similarly good match for those in creative endeavors. Here, graduates learn the nuts and bolts of business operations from mentors who have been there before. To go a step further, Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business offers an online MBA with a specialization in innovation entrepreneurship. In addition to extensive core coursework, students take courses such as new venture creation, global social entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial finance, and new product development.

MBA in Music Business Management

Don’t underestimate the power of a music manager. In 2017, Arcade Fire amicably parted ways with their manager of 12 years, Scott Rodger (who also manages Paul McCartney). The band’s next arena tour, which immediately followed that separation, failed to fill even half of the venues they played, and couldn’t come close to the sales levels of their previous tours in the same cities.

A good music manager can catapult a band to worldwide fame, as Brian Epstein did for The Beatles. Meanwhile, a bad music manager can make a poor decision and cost you a fortune, as Colonel Tom did when he sold the rights to Elvis’s early recordings. Knowing how to navigate these decisions can make the difference between obscurity and fame.

Bands need music management skills to handle licensing, promotion, retail, marketing, touring, and many other behind-the-scenes aspects of being a successful act. Whether those skills come from a band member themselves, or someone hired from outside, it’s going to require some education.

The MBA in the music business, offered by Southern New Hampshire University and Berklee College of Music, supplements the typical MBA curriculum with industry-focused courses such as music marketing strategies, music business finance, business law, and music leadership and ethics.

MBA in Marketing

The world may be getting smaller, but the markets are getting bigger and more international every year. In 2017, China accounted for 21 percent of the world’s $63 billion art market, a share second only to the United States. While creatives and designers might be able to locate a smattering a buyers for their products through a little ingenuity and some trial and error, selling to a large market on the other side of the world will take more structured planning.

Almost every MBA program will have core courses related to marketing. But the marketing concentration at MBA@UNC goes beyond the fundamentals of marketing by offering specialized courses in customer and product management, market analysis, and global marketing strategies. The online nature of the program, combined with the high global ranking of UNC’s business school, make it an attractive option for creatives and designers looking to straddle between worlds.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and freelancer who has been living abroad since 2016. His nonfiction has been published by Euromaidan Press, Cirrus Gallery, and Our Thursday. Both his writing and his experience abroad are shaped by seeking out alternative lifestyles and counterculture movements, especially in developing nations. You can follow his travels through Eastern Europe and Central Asia on Instagram at @weirdviewmirror. He’s recently finished his second novel, and is in no hurry to publish it.

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