Making the Message Matter

Pace’s new VP of University Relations is focused on finding the nexus between creativity and efficiency while taking the University’s reputation to new heights

For Frederica (Freddi) Wald, Pace’s new vice president of University Relations and chief marketing officer, communications are about being strategic, efficient, relevant, and engaging—all under the gun of today’s 24/7 news cycle. With more than 25 years of experience in developing and transforming the reputations of private and nonprofit organizations, Wald will be responsible for raising Pace’s profile and reputation both internally and externally. She takes on this challenge with enthusiasm, eager to apply her experience at other organizations to helping Pace build upon its strengths. In this interview, she shares some of the challenges—and opportunities—she sees ahead both for the field and for Pace.

You’ve done a lot of work in both nonprofit and corporate environments. How do you think their audiences and communications needs differ?
While there is a difference in culture depending upon where you’re working—whether a nonprofit, higher education, publishing, or financial services—I think that communication needs are very similar, no matter what your setting, when you are trying to articulate your message and target specific audiences. However, one of the biggest  challenges I face  is what is happening with communications as a whole, both in the industry and around the world. The way you have to communicate with different audiences has changed so rapidly with the rise of technology. Everything has to be accomplished much faster, and your message has to be very clear, very consistent, often targeted, and very relevant. That’s an issue that’s applicable to any audience: corporate, university, or the arts. Authenticity is key.

This is your first foray into higher education. Is there anything in particular that drew you to the field?
I do a lot of work in K-12 education in the Bronx and am the president of the board of a performing arts and visual arts education group called LeAp, whose mission is to bring arts education to about 300 schools in very under-served communities, and advisory work at the National Academy Museum here in New York City. So I already had a strong interest in education. However, I was very drawn to this particular role in higher education at Pace. Pace is a place of tremendous opportunity. It has a unique presence in downtown New York that gives students the opportunity to thrive. I was really intrigued by the structure here with the New York City and Pleasantville campuses—by everything Pace had to offer within its individual schools and its internal community, as well as its relationship with the external community.

How do you hope to apply the skills you developed in other positions to your new position at Pace?
Although I’ve been with two companies over the last 25 years (American Express, in both their publishing and corporate division, and Time Warner, which was rooted in a lot of content and marketing and media entertainment) I’ve never had a “typical” corporate job. My positions have always had an entrepreneurial and team based approach. They’ve been about building new organizations or identities and trying to connect internal identities with external audiences. This requires you to be customer focused and partner oriented, while at the same time trying to serve the end customer—who in Pace’s case are students, alumni, faculty and administration, or parents. I’ve also worked in organizations that were always trying to build to the next level: work towards the higher mission of the organization, and be efficient within the day-to-day operations. I learned to leverage people’s talents and work collaboratively with all divisions within an organization to promote the identity of the organization and to also make the individuals’ experience rewarding and fun. All of which would be critical to this position at Pace.

What are your top priorities in this new position?
University Relations serves a vital function. My main goals are to get in here, listen to everybody, observe, participate, and take action. I want to learn about the volume of materials coming out of this department and streamline it. We want to identify the top priority messages that are coming down from the administration, from the faculty, and from Pace as a whole and help translate that message and communicate to help influence enrollment and engage alumni and current students. We also want to usher in the digital age at Pace. One of our top priorities this year is launching Pace’s newly designed website. We’re in a fast paced world where things are coming at us 24/7—I want to work with University Relations and the communications directors to craft messages that are authentic, engaging, and relevant and to tell Pace’s story.

As a marketing expert with a fresh eye, what do you think are some of Pace’s strongest messages/selling points?
Though I’ve only been a member of the Pace Community for a short while and I’ve just begun to get my feet wet, I think Pace has a tremendous number of great things to communicate. Having both an urban campus and suburban campus and helping prospective students understand their distinct advantages is very important. The growth and expansion of Pace’s campuses, both physically and in terms of course offerings, is very exciting. The opportunities of being in New York City and Pleasantville allow us to form strong partnerships with a wide variety of corporations, institutions, and individuals in the community around us. I also think that Pace offers students great opportunities for experiential learning. Being trained in the classroom with theory, and then being able to get practical experience outside the classroom via internships, apprenticeships, and professional experiences is an amazing value.

Any areas you’re hoping to improve upon?
I hope to address some particular tactical challenges and opportunities, such as launching our new website, and celebrating Pleasantville’s 50th anniversary and making that relevant to both students and alumni. For me personally, I want to work with the individual schools and divisions to create more value to their messaging and tie it back to their individual goals and the University’s long-term goals. I see the Marketing and Communications Department as a way to be both strategic and very practical about getting that message out there. I think we also need to leverage the media better and integrate a little more. We’ve got great events happening and the schools and faculty are doing great things with their curriculum, if we could integrate that with Marketing and Communications, we could push more information out and do a lot of after-marketing to show people what we are doing at Pace.

One year down the road (or more realistically, perhaps 3 or 4), what would you like people to be saying about Pace?
I’d like people to say that Pace is a dynamic, thriving environment that offers a number of scholarly and professional pathways to prospective students. I’d also like our alumni network to feel that same way about the University—feeling pride in where they’ve come from and a sense of connection.

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
When I was looking at this opportunity, I felt like it was a very logical step for me but I also felt very privileged to be considered for the position. I had an eclectic background, but everything that I’ve been passionate about has been learning, education, arts, and building on a mission and watching that mission become a reality. For me these kinds of roles are never completely theoretical; they’re always about matching theory and putting it in to action. I just hope that that the value and motivation that I can bring to Pace will move us forward over the next year… and the next five years… and beyond!