Defining Expertise

The Richards School partners with Pierpont Communications to create professional research series

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The Stan Richards School of Advertising & Public Relations has partnered with Pierpont Communications, an integrated marketing communications firm with four offices in Texas, to create a research series that will strengthen communications scholarship and drive thought leadership among industry professionals. 

Created through an endowment from Pierpont Communications, the five-year research series will be directed by Associate Professor Brad Love and Assistant Professor Jeffrey Treem. The series will focus on defining expertise among professional services organizations to identify how to best become an “expert,” ultimately determining the most effective methods for battling commoditization in the professional services industry.

“At Pierpont, we have always prioritized the important connection between academia and the professional community because we believe it keeps Pierpont on the leading edge of new thinking,” said Phil Morabito, founder and CEO of Pierpont Communications. “This endowment will yield valuable insights to help us advance thought leadership for our clients and create more influence for the organizations we serve.”  

The Richards School and Pierpont recently celebrated the endowment and research series by hosting a panel event, featuring executives from small business, big business and the non-profit communications sector.


Expertise & Opportunity in Digital Storytelling from Moody College of Communication on VimeoFor the full version of “Defining Expertise” visit the Moody College of Communication Vimeo channel. 

The panel centered on defining expertise in crowded markets with Megan Matthews Carnahan, chief communications officer of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and Chris Talley, vice president of brand, communication strategy and content of USAA weighing in with Pierpont’s senior vice president Stacy Armijo moderating the talk. Love said the long-term focus of their research will explore how people perceive expertise and what qualities define a credible person or entity. 

“We don’t always understand what makes an organization respected or revered in its field. To some extent, it is performance quality, but there are always other elements,” said Love. “The research supported by this endowment will seek definitive answers about what those elements are and how organizations can best leverage them, first in professional services and in the future, throughout other industries.”

Interviews and focus groups will be used in conjunction with data from surveys and other communication efforts. Love said that in the digital age, there is an overwhelming amount of data and conversation about gauging metrics, making it difficult to assess high-level competency in such a complex environment.

“We’re interested in how organizations present themselves as experts and how that can vary within company culture,” said Love. “For example, does the CEO view expertise differently than the HR manager?”

In future years, the endowment research will expand to define expertise in other arenas such as healthcare, financial services and more.

Marc Speir
Senior Content Producer