VCU’s Adcenter changes with the industry

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by Christina Couch

The national profile of the Adcenter at Virginia Commonwealth University is on the rise. It was ranked the No. 1 graduate advertising program in the country in 2005 by Creativity Magazine. Last month brought another accolade with Business Week naming the Adcenter as one of the world’s 60 best design schools. Also boosting its images are a host of major advertising awards won by students over the last two years. Students snagged two CLIOs, two ATHENAs and one Ad Directors Club of New York award.

The center provides a pipeline of new talent to Virginia’s advertising agencies and in January will move into a new home: a $10 million, Clive Wilkinson-designed building. Virginia Business sat down with Adcenter Director Rick Boyko to learn how the school grooms the next generation of marketing leaders. Boyko, managing director since 2003, is the former chief creative officer for Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide in New York.

VB: What has made the Adcenter so successful?

Boyko: It was set up to be much more akin to a business mentality. The faculty have all achieved success in the business and understand that it isn’t just a “let’s polish a portfolio and do some cool ads and send students out” kind of school. These students truly understand the business they’re going into. They understand that there’s a client involved. They work side by side with potential clients, strategists, and creatives. … The industry is changing, not gradually, but exponentially. It’s no longer about just doing ads. It’s packaging, retail environment, trade shows, creating communication for the answering machine that comes when you’re calling a brand. It’s important that we stay ahead of that curve.

VB: Where is advertising headed now? What’s required for an agency or an individual to be competitive?

Boyko: Agencies are becoming much more of a consultant. As the media explodes, there are more opportunities for consumers to come in different contact with the brand whether it’s on the Internet or a viral piece that’s being sent around. As an agency, a person, a brand manager or a strategist, you have to be thinking about that all the time. Agencies used to do ads and just talked about mass communication, well now mass communication is viral.

VB: How is the Adcenter addressing those changes?

Boyko: We have a creative brand manager track that is an alternative to an MBA. If you look at P&G or Unilever or GE, they’re all talking, the CEOs anyways, are talking about getting their brand managers to be more creative thinkers, that they need to respond quicker to market differences and changes. Companies are looking now for that, and we believe creative brand managers will be in a position to be able to think about those things.

VB: Let’s talk about the new $10 million building that the Adcenter will move into soon (as part of VCU’s Monroe Park campus expansion).

Boyko: What the new building affords us from my perspective is a facility that is more like what other interesting agencies and companies have … the design of the environment is going to be open and hopefully it will breed more collaborative participation and thinking and will be fulcrum for creative thinking …Our new building will become a real lightning rod for even more talented people to want to come.

VB: What’s the coolest thing about the Adcenter? What keeps you coming to work every day?

Boyko: The fact that it’s filled with 25-year-olds who keep me young. They think about things in a totally different way. It’s exciting to see the energy that comes from that sort of thinking. I feel much more engaged in the business and much more excited by it because of the influence that’s here and the fact that there’s no cynicism … I think we’re delivering something to the industry that’s pretty neat.

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