Inaugural Vice President for Marketing and Communications

Photo courtesy of Justin BellJustin M. Bell, a seasoned creative strategist who helped to elevate the status of The Ohio State University and multiple well-known brands, has been appointed the inaugural vice president for marketing and communications at Fordham, effective Aug. 25. He is the first person to hold this position in University Marketing and Communications, which became a stand-alone division earlier this year. 
“Justin is the right person to lead the newly formed University Marketing and Communications division. He has a proven track record in developing comprehensive marketing strategies and integrating data-driven insights into his work, and is dedicated to fostering meaningful connections within and outside the University,” said Fordham’s president, Tania Tetlow, who welcomed Bell and his husband to the Fordham community in an email announcement on July 20.
Bell comes to Fordham from The Ohio State University—an institution whose student population is four times as big as Fordham’s—where he serves as associate vice president for brand marketing. Over the past four years, he enhanced Ohio State’s brand in ways that grew enrollment and built a reputation for cutting-edge research. Before joining higher education, he worked for marketing agencies in Los Angeles and Miami, and went on to found his own agency focused on digital strategy, social media, and web development. Within two years, his startup was acquired by Lion Agency, where he served as CEO. 
In his new role at Fordham, Bell will manage a team of professionals who work in advertising and marketing, news and media relations, photography and video, social media, and website management. As leader of the division, Bell will play a pivotal role in raising Fordham’s profile and increasing enrollment. 
When Bell begins at Fordham in August, he’ll be following six months of leadership from UMC’s interim vice president, Donna Lehmann, who will return to her role as associate vice president for marketing. His appointment is the culmination of a national search led by Lerzan Aksoy, dean of the Gabelli School of Business, which produced 10 semi-finalists and four finalists.  
In a Q&A with Fordham News, Bell reflected on his career path and shared his vision for Fordham. 
You’ve worked on brand development for Ohio State as well as companies like Amazon and Visa. What role does branding play in marketing and communications strategy, and what have you learned from this work that you’ll bring to Fordham?
In branding, we focus on tangible and emotional touchpoints that shape our perception of a brand over time. This requires marketers and communicators to be intentional about curating experiences we want our audiences to have through storytelling, advertising, and across all touchpoints. I’ve successfully helped brands use data-informed approaches to create experiences that resonate with audiences. Higher ed is no different. We have to build relationships with students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, and donors by tailoring the brand experience to meet their needs, which will establish trust that will then build affinity and ultimately strengthen brand perception. 
You’ve led several major marketing and communications initiatives at The Ohio State University. Which ones are you most proud of?
During the pandemic, it was important to protect and strengthen Ohio State’s sense of community. My team created Together As Buckeyes, a campaign that became a rallying cry for the university community and Ohioans across the state, while also supporting the important work of Ohio State’s academic medical center in fighting COVID-19. As we emerged from the pandemic, my team embarked on an audience research study to understand how COVID-19 impacted perceptions of Ohio State. Our qualitative and quantitative research informed a new brand platform that was market-tested and is now delivering the university’s brand more consistently, verbally and visually. Audience research also informed a complete reimagination of Ohio State’s digital ecosystem, including the introduction of a new UX design system and a reimagined My team also established a storytelling theme calendar, used within our central team and by marketers and communicators across the institution, to help elevate key themes and stories throughout the year that tied back to our institutional priorities and brand strengths. This allowed us to drive a much more consistent experience for our readers—and our audiences that are engaging with content—across our channels. 
Under your leadership, Ohio State’s social media presence rose from low rankings to the top 10 among colleges and universities nationwide. How did you help to make this happen?
The key was being audience-centric. Year after year, we see changes in social platform behavior and uses across our audiences, so we established strategies to understand how to meet certain audiences on each platform. This allowed us to be more intentional about our content, the tone of our posts, and ultimately how we engaged with our audiences. Another beneficial approach has been getting students themselves to create content. They know what’s on trend and what’s going to resonate with their peers, and that was a big success for us, especially on Instagram and TikTok. 
What drew you to Fordham?
The people. I’m inspired by how the Fordham community embraces cura personalis—care for the mind, body, and spirit—with a strong commitment to go beyond what’s expected in service to others, while still delivering impact that benefits our global society. It’s Fordham’s commitment to its Jesuit values that really makes it a special place. I felt it since the day I started engaging with Fordham. 
New York City is a plus. I was born and raised in Ohio. My dad, my sister, myself—we all went to Ohio State. After graduating from college, I lived in Minneapolis, western New York, and Miami. I look forward to relocating to New York and having access to all the amazing food options. I’m a huge foodie, so the ability to wake up and try something new every day is exciting. 
What are Fordham’s current strengths in marketing and communications? What areas do you hope to build on?
Fordham’s done a great job of establishing a strong regional brand awareness. I want to build on that by growing visibility and advancing our reputation—both nationally and internationally—in support of President Tetlow’s vision and our desire as an institution to compete on the global stage. Additionally, Fordham has a strong storytelling presence. I want to use it to elevate the tremendous impact Fordham has on our communities and the world. 
What are your top priorities for this fall semester?
My priority is getting to know Fordham: the people, traditions, and overall experience, as well as exploring Fordham through the eyes of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and donors. That will all be instrumental in me understanding what audiences expect and ultimately need from Fordham. Understanding our audiences will also be informed through audience research, which we’ll use to inform and evolve our marketing and communications strategies. I also plan on building strong relationships with marketers, communicators, leaders, and colleagues across the University, and I look forward to learning more about the great work already underway, while establishing connections and collaboration to elevate Fordham through every touchpoint.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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