Joel Curran appointed USC’s senior vice president and chief communications officer

The public relations and higher education innovator looks forward to leading communications that support the university’s world-class research.

June 07, 2023 Chinyere Cindy Amobi

Public relations and higher education veteran Joel Curran will join USC as senior vice president and chief communications officer, effective July 10. Curran brings a diverse range of experience in strategic communications to USC President Carol L. Folt’s leadership team.

“In Joel Curran, we have a nationally respected higher education communications innovator who combines a well-honed strategic mindset with an understanding of the data-driven insights, thoughtful planning and skills that contribute to a successful communications program,” Folt said. “He is extremely well-equipped to lead our team and connect with USC’s key audiences across an evolving communications landscape.”

In this role, Curran hopes to share compelling stories about USC’s world-class researchers, students and faculty while he drives engagement between the university, the Los Angeles community and the world.

“I’m fascinated by what President Folt is doing with her universitywide moonshots, and I’m captivated by the vision, collegiality and collaboration shared by faculty and staff,” Curran said.

Curran comes to USC from the University of Notre Dame, where he served as the vice president of public affairs and communications for almost two years. There, as a member of the president’s leadership council, he led the university’s national reputation and trust study, implemented a number of campuswide processes and procedures that created a more cohesive communications structure, and created a campus communications leadership council, among other initiatives to build greater engagement, trust and collaboration across the university.

The road to higher education

Curran describes working in higher education as “the most unexpected thing that’s ever happened” in his career. In 2013, Folt tapped the veteran public relations professional to leave MSLGroup — a global communications network — and return to his alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to serve as the university’s first vice chancellor of communications.

I’m fascinated by what President Folt is doing with her universitywide moonshots, and I’m captivated by the vision, collegiality and collaboration shared by faculty and staff.

Joel Curran

Curran now describes that position as “the most challenging and rewarding” job he’d ever had in his career. There, the eighth-generation North Carolinian found purpose beyond the goal of building a brand, as he had worked toward in his corporate public relations career, instead finding fulfillment from a greater mission.

Curran credits much of that fulfillment to Folt’s leadership. “It was her ability to lead with great vision while she was triaging issues — to not take her eye off the big picture,” Curran said. “I just found her to be a remarkable leader.” Across eight years, he built a high-performing team that managed all aspects of university communications, including media relations, paid media, official owned and social media accounts, community relations and more.

A lifetime learner

The self-described “lifetime learner” received the foundations of his strategic communications training through more than a decade — in multiple divisions and positions — at The Walt Disney Co. From his humble beginnings as a skipper on the Jungle Cruise through the Disney College Program — ending as the program’s valedictorian — to rising through the ranks to become the first Walt Disney World publicist hired directly from college, Curran found Disney to be the perfect career launching pad. In future stints with the corporation, Curran held Disney Synergy positions in Florida and at the company’s Burbank headquarters, and was heavily involved in the company’s yearlong acquisition of the then-California Angels baseball team in Anaheim.

Fueling connections on campus and worldwide

Across his experiences with higher education leadership, Curran says he most enjoys working with a team and watching individuals develop in their roles. “I love to ideate and brainstorm,” he said. “My vision is to make sure we’ve got great people, give them the leadership they need, then get out of the way and let them do their jobs.”

He believes USC is the perfect campus for the kind of ambitious storytelling and engagement work he’s become accustomed to in higher education.

“USC is a huge research enterprise,” Curran said. “It’s rich in storytelling material, and to be able to translate that work for the benefit of people who aren’t necessarily in the USC environment, people who aren’t in higher education but are going to be the beneficiaries of that research, is one of the great challenges we have.”

Curran looks forward to working with the campus communications community, faculty, staff and students to find ways to share those stories in compelling ways that drive engagement. He’s also excited to be part of the university’s “long and storied” athletics program and support Trojan coaches and student-athletes “as they pursue their passions in competition, the classroom and the community.”

“I’m very thrilled and grateful that President Folt has given me the opportunity,” Curran said. “I think this is going to be a rich experience for me to learn and to grow, and you can’t ask for more than that.”

Curran earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from UNC-Chapel Hill, as well as an executive education certificate in public leadership from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Curran’s wife, Shelley, is an attorney and assistant town manager in Cary, N.C., and their daughter Savannah is a rising high school senior. The couple also has three adult daughters: Kelsey, Addison and Mackenzie.