UNC-CH hires new public relations chief

jstancill@newsobserver.comNovember 11, 2013 

— UNC-Chapel Hill has hired an alumnus and public relations executive to oversee its public communications strategy, the university announced Monday.

Joel Curran, managing director for the New York office of public relations firm MSLGROUP, has been named the university’s first vice chancellor for communications and public affairs.

Curran, 50, is a Lexington, N.C., native and a 1986 graduate of the university with a degree in journalism.

He begins the job Dec. 2 at an annual salary of $300,000. The appointment was approved by the Board of Trustees and announced by Chancellor Carol Folt after a national search.

“I’m thrilled,” Curran said in a phone interview Monday. “I call this a dream job, because in the back of my mind wherever I’ve been, I’ve always felt like Carolina would be just a wonderful place to work. But the journey kept taking me to different places. I feel really lucky.”

Curran is a 27-year veteran of the public relations industry in Los Angeles, Chicago and Charlotte and spent more than a decade in corporate communications for The Walt Disney Co., where he became director of synergy for the company’s network television and professional sports franchises.

Curran said there are two brands that have been important to him in his life – Disney and Carolina.

MSLGROUP is the world’s fourth largest public relations agency. In Curran’s current role in the firm’s flagship office, he is responsible for nearly 200 employees. Previously he ran the firm’s Midwest operations.

The vice chancellor-level communications job was created following several years of news that battered the university’s image, including scandals in athletics, academics and fundraising. At times, the university was fighting public records battles with the media and simultaneously dealing with investigations and reviews from the NCAA, the UNC Board of Governors and the university’s accrediting organization.

The allegations revolved around improper benefits for football players, wrongdoing by tutors and fraudulent classes in the African and Afro-American Studies department. The university, which had long been held up as an example of running a clean athletics program, found itself in an unfavorable national spotlight.

“Frankly I don’t have a line of sight into why things were the way they were or how things unfolded,” Curran said of the university’s public relations operations. “But I do know there’s a good communications team in place.”

He said one reason he found the UNC-CH job attractive is the fact that he would report directly to the chancellor. Previously, the top communications official reported to the vice chancellor in charge of fundraising.

Folt said in a news release that Curran has “an intimate understanding of the strategies and techniques essential to effectively reaching the University’s key audiences in today’s complex communications environment.”

At UNC-CH, Curran is a member of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s board of advisers. He was an adjunct instructor in public relations and marketing at the University of Chicago’s Graham School.

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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