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. In fact, in 2022, the newest business school in the United States was an art school. The De Sole School of Business Innovation at the Savannah College of Art and Design teaches students to blend paint colors and brand strategies. At the intersection of canvases and spreadsheets lies a question: how can creatives and designers apply the business management skills of an MBA program back into their more free-minded careers?

For many, the answer lies in finding the right business strategy. NerdWallet highlights 12 key business ideas for creatives, from art director to antique curation, and consulting. An MBA program with the right 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 89 percent of all music industry revenue in the US. Netflix, a video streaming service, earned 16 nominations for the Oscars in 2023—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. Those with MBA or business degrees can earn a graduate-level digital marketing certificate from the Rutgers University-Camden School of Business.

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 to perform data analytics and craft digital marketing campaigns that integrate with 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. For example, 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, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers an online MBA with a specialization in entrepreneurship. In addition to extensive core coursework, students take courses such as entrepreneurship and small business management; consulting; and franchising.

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.

Like Brian Epstein did for The Beatles, a good music manager can catapult a band to worldwide fame. 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 distinguish 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 will 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 business structure and strategies; music business finance; the business of music marketing; and music business leadership and ethics.

MBA in Marketing

The world may be getting smaller, but the markets are getting bigger and more international every year. In 2023, China accounted for 19 percent of the world’s $50 billion art market, a share second only to the United States. While creatives and designers might be able to locate a smattering of buyers for their products through some ingenuity and 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. However, the marketing concentration at MBA@UNC goes beyond the fundamentals of marketing by offering specialized courses in marketing: analysis and development; global brand strategy; managing modern customers and markets; services marketing; and marketing analytics. The online nature of the program, combined with the high global ranking of UNC’s business school, makes this program an attractive option for creatives and designers looking to straddle between worlds.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about how new and aspiring business school students can best plan their education and careers. In the Two Views series, he conducts detailed interviews with recent business school alumni, with a particular focus on the choice between in-person, online, and hybrid learning models. His Femme-BA series highlights business schools that not only excel academically but also take unique and robust steps to support a diverse and inclusive learning environment for women.

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