Davidson College has hired Mark D. Johnson to serve as Chief Communications and Marketing Officer (CCMO). This is a new position at Davidson reporting directly to President Carol Quillen and providing counsel on institutional communications and leadership in public affairs, marketing, branding and crisis communications.
Johnson has worked for the past two years as senior director for media relations and strategic communications at Arizona State University, and also served as interim vice president of the ASU communications team. He will begin work at Davidson on Nov. 7.
At Davidson, he will lead a communications team who collaborate across campus to share Davidson’s aspirations and stories with internal, local and national audiences using multiple platforms, from print to film to social media.
A native of Middletown, Ohio, Johnson began his journalism career in high school, writing on teenage-related issues for a weekly page in the Middletown Journal. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from DePauw University, where he also won fellowships for summer seminars in economics and in political journalism at Georgetown University and a post-graduate fellowship at the Poynter Institute.
He started his career as a reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch before moving to the Washington bureau for that paper’s parent company, Media General newspapers. In those positions he covered a range of subjects, from the local police beat, in Richmond, to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Johnson spent the next decade as a reporter for the Charlotte Observer, primarily focused on politics and government out of the paper’s Raleigh bureau. But he also covered presidential campaigns in Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. He was an embedded reporter with the 82nd Airborne during the invasion of Iraq, an experience that he said, “Taught me a lot about different worlds—geographically, professionally, culturally—and about myself.”
He left journalism and spent two years as deputy director of communications for then-N.C. Governor Bev Purdue, managing communications and messaging for her and 14 state agencies. From 2012-2014 he was director of external affairs for the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, overseeing communications, marketing and development. Finally, he worked briefly as a consultant for a Raleigh-based public relations firm before taking his current position at ASU—the nation’s largest university.
Johnson said he accepted Davidson’s job offer because, “The college offers the opportunity to help shape storytelling at one of the best schools in the country. It’s hard to top that!”
He also cited the college’s Honor Code and overall ethos.
“Very quickly in the process it became clear that everyone with whom I met shared aspirations of preparing students to continue learning throughout life, and to ‘Give back to the community woodpile,’” he said.
He continued, “Davidson alumni have enjoyed a distinctive educational experience learning the skills to think critically, communicate clearly and solve problems, and the college provides that in a way and a place that distinguishes it among a very select group of similar schools. You sense that it’s a place with a conscience, and that’s a good feeling when you go home each day.”
Johnson said the advent of social media has transformed the job of public relations. “The press release is dead,” he stated. “The media has become diffuse. Its resources have shrunk, and outlets often lack the time or staff to put together a story. The key to success in the current arena is providing your own fully-formed content to as many platforms as possible. I talk about being ‘platform agnostic.’ I don’t care where you read our story, as long as you read it.
“The news business has yet to find a viable business model in a disrupted industry. That’s disconcerting as a former journalist and a citizen. The communications and marketing side of the house has to adapt more quickly to how audiences receive and absorb information,” he noted. “We can’t shout at them. We have to invite them in.”
Johnson also recognizes that educational institutions are evolving as a response to increasing questions about the value of higher education. His work at ASU supported the school’s adherence to “The New American University,” a model that focuses on inclusion, research and discovery, and commitment to the social and economic health of the surrounding community.
Johnson’s work at Davidson will promote many of the same aspirations.
“In our rapidly changing, interconnected world, Davidson’s strengths and competitive advantages become even more powerful, and our commitment to a liberal arts philosophy grows stronger each day as we see the urgent need in the world for the leadership our graduates provide,” said President Carol Quillen. “We have a great opportunity to make known to a much broader public who we are, what we seek to do and why this is valuable—we are excited to draw upon Mark’s vast experience and expertise as he guides this important work.”
The college’s priorities include building a diverse community where inclusivity is a commitment and practice, and all students feel welcome, supported, seen and heard. Davidson devotes significant resources to assuring access for all qualified students regardless of ability to pay. Its curriculum encourages students to create original work with the guidance of expert faculty, discover new knowledge and express new insights. It stresses an inclusive pedagogy with cross-institutional collaborations and community-based learning, and fields 21 athletic teams that compete at the highest national level.