EPISODE #66 || Vann Graves, Executive Director of the VCU Brandcenter

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Vann Graves, Executive Director of the VCU Brandcenter, brings stories, learnings, and vision from his highly-awarded career working with some of the world's biggest brands. Hear about how being asked to create a Christmas card for (then CCO and Chairman of BBDO) Phil Dusenberry's dog taught him a lesson about being a great creative, his enormous goal for making Brandcenter more accessible to students and diversifying the pipeline to the industry, what the industry should know about the next generation of advertising, and why you shouldn't "fake it 'til you make it".

Topics Discussed

  • How his degree in Marketing has benefited his advertising career, realizing he was an art director vs. a designer, and starting as a summer intern at BBDO and leaving 15 years later as a VP, Creative Director. 

  • How being asked to create a Christmas card for (then CCO and Chairman of BBDO) Phil Dusenberry's dog taught him a lesson about being a great creative.

  • Why agencies need versatile, adaptive thinking, now more than ever.

  • Why Brandcenter isn’t a portfolio school, how Brandcenter encourages diversity and inclusion through its structure and curriculum, and Vann’s vision for the future of Brandcenter (don’t miss this part).

  • What the industry should know about the next generation of advertising, and the energy, sense of collaboration, and dedication that they bring.

  • Why you shouldn’t “fake it ’til you make it,” and being okay with never feeling 100% ready.

Mic Drops

“[Mentorship is] a relationship that’s cultivated by someone who thinks they see potential in you, and your ability to live up to their expectations.”

“As we think about the future of the Brandcenter, I have a personal goal and a development goal to try to make the Brandcenter tuition-free.”

“Just as much as that Asian student or black student needs to learn about white culture, those students who are white want to—and will need to—learn how to sell products and services to that Asian family or that black family. And we want them to feel comfortable having those conversations, and unless they’re in a diverse learning environment, those conversations will never happen.”

“The Brandcenter is a pipeline to our industry. And for a long time, I think some folks have given lip service to diversity. Well now, I run a pipeline to it. So it’s up to me to figure out a way to best service the industry. And the best way to do that is to ensure that we’ve got a diverse pool of students that are actually prepared to work in this industry. And the only way to create that opportunity for diversity is to take down that financial barrier on the front-end.”

“Do not fake it til you make it. Learn it. Figure it out. Stumble. Get it right.” 

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About Vann

Vann Graves joined the VCU Brandcenter as executive director in August, 2018, bringing 20+ years of creative and executive leadership experience. His work has been recognized with numerous industry awards including Cannes Lions, Grand London International Awards, a Grand Clio and the D&AD Graphite Pencil.

Prior to joining the VCU Brandcenter, Vann served as Chief Creative Officer at J. Walter Thompson ATL; EVP, Global Executive Creative Director at McCann New York; VP, Creative Director at BBDO New York; and CoFounder at FL+G, a full-service branding agency in Denver Co.

Vann brings together creative and business expertise to the VCU Brandcenter, having worked on some of the world’s leading global brands (Coca-Cola, MasterCard, the U.S. Army, GE, M&M’s, Snickers, Visa to name a few). Throughout his career, he has put a high value on collaboration and commitment to support innovation and high-quality creative work.

A Fulbright scholar, Vann holds degrees from Howard University, the Pratt Institute and Harvard University.