From Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist to award-winning public relations executive, David Hertz has channeled his strengths in communications to become Oberlin’s chief of staff.
Hertz works closely with President Carmen Twillie Ambar and senior administrators to implement their agendas and help the institution improve its strategic communications. He officially took the helm on July 1, after serving on an interim basis following the retirement of Ferd Protzman ’75 in December 2019.
Hertz comes to Oberlin after 14 years with Dix & Eaton, one of the top public relations agencies in the country. ‘‘I left as a managing director and oversaw the media relations group. I specialized in national media strategy and Oberlin was actually one of my clients,’’ he says.
‘‘Oberlin brought me in to help with communications around the Gibson case, and then I started to evolve into other areas of support for the college, strategic communications counsel. When Ferd decided to retire, I was asked to temporarily fill the role of chief of staff,’’ he says. ‘‘The more I did the job, the more I realized how much I enjoyed it, how much I enjoyed Oberlin.
‘‘President Ambar offered me the position on a permanent basis, and I made the decision to accept that offer. Much to my surprise I might add; I wasn’t expecting this.’’
Hertz, a Shaker Heights, Ohio native, earned a BA in English from the University of Virginia and a MA in journalism from the University of Missouri. He started his career as a news reporter with the Boca Raton News (Florida) and later worked as an editor with the Akron Beacon Journal (Ohio). As the youngest assigning editor in the newsroom, he proposed and helped plan a year-long series examining race relations in Akron that received the Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Public Service in 1994.
The continued decline in the newspaper industry gave him pause and the opportunity to rethink his career path.
‘‘I needed to make a change and wanted to go to a quality PR firm that was known for its integrity. Dix & Eaton was one that I really aspired to work for. They had a great reputation; I was lucky to land with them.’’
During his tenure at Dix & Eaton, Hertz and his team spearheaded Northeast Ohio’s media relations campaign to promote Cleveland’s hosting of the 2016 Republican National Convention. Their job was to promote Northeast Ohio, the city of Cleveland, and the business community. The widespread media attention the city received earned Hertz and his team several national PR honors, including two Silver and one Bronze Anvil awards, the top awards from the Public Relations Society of America.
Although his duties as Oberlin’s chief of staff are similar to those of his predecessor, the position, he says, is largely undefined. ‘‘It needs to be individualized to fit not only the person who’s doing it but the needs of the president, the needs of the executive you are seeking to help. My top priority is to assist the president in implementing her agenda and in moving Oberlin College forward. So, I am implementing that job in a way that reflects her priorities and her pace.
‘‘During this pandemic, one of her top priorities is the health and safety and welfare of the campus community,’’ he says, ‘‘so one of my top priorities has been that: maintaining, protecting the health and safety and well-being of our community.’’ As a result, Hertz has focused on the testing protocol that follows a layered health care strategy, and the communications strategy around the six pillars strategy that the college has implemented to help it move forward during the coronavirus pandemic.
Other priorities include the Presidential Initiative on Racial Equity and Diversity, organized this fall to address issues of violence, police-community relationships, and racial injustice; and One Oberlin, the institution’s long-range initiative to enhance student learning outcomes and develop a roadmap to financial resiliency.
In addition to supporting the president’s agenda, Hertz has priorities of his own. ‘‘I want to help tell the Oberlin story in a more effective, powerful way, and I want to help this leadership team perform even better as a team.’’
Coming from an energetic and fast-paced PR agency, Hertz was surprised to find a comparable work culture at a liberal arts college. He’s also been pleasantly surprised by the strong desire among senior administrators in particular to continue to move the institution forward at pace. ‘‘The complete commitment to positioning Oberlin for success in the future, regardless of the challenges that liberal arts colleges face in the coming few years; and the commitment to academic excellence here is impressive, it’s just completely impressive,’’ he says.
While his official introduction to Oberlin came via a highly publicized litigation case with a local business, Hertz says the president is working to strengthen and build new relationships with city and business leaders. He joined Ambar in a presentation before Oberlin City Council to share how they planned to protect the health and safety of the campus community during the pandemic. ‘‘That was important to do; we are going to try to do more of those kinds of outreach to improve the town-gown relationship.’’
Away from Oberlin, Hertz and his family—wife Beth, who works in media relations at Cleveland Clinic Akron General Hospital; daughter Alyssa, a fashion and costume design student at Kent State University; and son Joshua, a high school senior—live in Copley, where he uses his down time to garden (fruit trees, raspberries, herbs, and a lot of flowers), hit the hiking trails in Summit County Metroparks, and officiate at USA swim meets.
‘‘I didn’t anticipate leaving Dix & Eaton. I was happy where I was,” he says, recalling his early days working at the college. “I didn’t anticipate enjoying the job of chief of staff as much as I did, and I didn’t anticipate meeting so many people I admired and thoroughly enjoyed working with. It was just the perfect way to work my way into a new job ... that I was not seeking.’’
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