More Than an Ad School

A New Name, New Look and New Building as VCU's Brandcenter Looks to Stand Apart From Portfolio Programs

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In a telling nod to the radical changes afoot in the marketing world, the industry's leading institution for graduate studies, the Adcenter at Virginia Commonwealth University, is ushering in 2008 with an extreme makeover -- including a new name, a new look and a $9 million new home.
Rick Boyko, managing director of the VCU Brandcenter
Rick Boyko, managing director of the VCU Brandcenter Credit: Lisa Billings

Effective Jan. 14, the Richmond, Va.-based VCU Adcenter, founded in 1996, will be called VCU Brandcenter. It also is unveiling a new logo, courtesy of New York-based design firm Collins, as well as a website, www.brandcenter.vcu.edu, created by Interpublic Group of Cos.' RG/A, New York.

Advertising: Too limiting
Following lengthy debate, faculty, board members and students concluded that association with advertising was too limiting and that the school needed a broader name to reflect the rapidly changing industry landscape in which the school's graduates find employment, said Rick Boyko, managing director of the VCU Brandcenter.

The hope is that the moniker implies a more comprehensive education and, in turn, helps graduates find better positions, said Mr. Boyko, who served as chief creative officer of WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather North America and co-president of Ogilvy, New York, before arriving at VCU.

"The scope of the school has grown, and the business is changing, so if we're going to prepare people for that bigger and more complicated world that is branding today, it's probably limiting to think about it just in advertising terms," said Mike Hughes, president and creative director at Interpublic's Martin Agency, Richmond, who is also a member of the Brandcenter's board of directors.

"'Adcenter' sounds great if you want to go work for an ad agency, but 'Brandcenter' sounds great if you want to go work for an ad agency or just about any company that cares about brands," Mr. Hughes said. The name change coupled with giving the school a new home and image "acknowledges the emphasis we're putting on a more thoughtful kind of graduate education," he said.

Building with a modern feel
The VCU Brandcenter invested $9 million to move to a new building, tapping world-famous architect Clive Wilkinson to lead the effort. Mr. Wilkinson, known for designing spaces for Google and Disney and ad agencies such as JWT, TBWA/Chiat/Day, and independent shop Mother, partnered with local firm Baskerville to transform a historic 27,000-square-foot building in VCU's Monroe Park campus in Richmond into an open, airy space with a modern feel.

"Being in a space that is more inspirational helps with the process every day, and going to work in a place that feels contemporary, that feels like it's forward thinking, pushes you to be more forward thinking," said Mr. Hughes. "A lot of agency people are going to come to Richmond to visit the Brandcenter and go home wishing their space was as figured out as the Brandcenter space."

The rebranding effort was initially met with some resistance among the student ranks. A number of students "had felt there was a lot of equity built up in the name 'Adcenter,'" said second-year grad student Joe Quattrone.

"But the industry has soured on agencies' being called 'an ad agency,' so the name 'Adcenter' could have a negative effect," said Mr. Quattrone, 28, who is preparing to complete his final semester. "Having the name 'Brandcenter' on our diploma I don't think will hurt us in any way."

Enrollment, faculty on the rise
Students enrolled in the two-year, full-time program earn a master-of-science degree in mass communication with a concentration in advertising and can study one of four tracks: art direction, copywriting, creative brand management and communications strategy. In recent years, the Brandcenter's student enrollment (about 180) and full-time faculty (11, including Mr. Boyko) have risen. Alumni have landed at some of the hottest shops around, like Butler Shine & Stern, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Modernista and Wieden & Kennedy.

Mr. Boyko hopes the changes will help the school further set itself apart from the pack of portfolio schools and traditional academia by more closely aligning itself with an evolving ad business in which marketers are increasingly turning to nontraditional methods of brand-building -- everything from word-of-mouth messaging to packaging design. Going forward, the rebranding could also help attract more faculty and instructors from a wider array of backgrounds to help churn out talent prepared to work in an integrated marketing world.

"We hope that people will look at us as more than an ad school," Mr. Boyko said. "We are a school that teaches the business of marketing communications."
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