Maybe it’s not so surprising that I would strongly endorse the new name for the most influential school in advertising. After all, I’ve deliberately avoided the “advertising” moniker since I formed O’Keefe Marketing in 1990. On the other hand, I’ve been associated with the Adcenter since its formation. Aren’t we turning our back on the principles that made this organization great? Thankfully no.

I took a little walk through time on the Internet Archive (better known as the “WaybackMachine“). Here that I found an article in CMYK heralding the launch of a new advertising school. The article quotes visionary leader, Diane Cook Tench, in saying the need for the school arose because:

“While advertising education has stagnated over the last two decades, the ad industry has not.”

The quote reminds us that the sole reason for the Adcenter’s formation was that other schools failed to change and adapt to a turbulent industry.

When industry leaders gather for our semi-annual board meetings, they seldom question whether the school is changing too much. Instead, the conversation is rightly focused on whether we are changing enough. Are we keeping up with the astonishing growth of new technologies, new techniques and new mediums? Are we opening our door to a diverse population that reflects the globalization of commerce? Are we immersing ethics and responsibility into the subjects we teach?

Thankfully, the school that Tench brought to life and Rick Boyko now stewards has not falling into the stagnation trap. The new logo is the school’s fourth. There have also been four directors of the school. The Martin Agency’s Mike Hughes is the only remaining member of the original board. (Sadly two of the three board members pictured here have passed away.)

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In changing its name, the school is not following others, but asking an industry to follow us. This editorial from Creativity Magazine says it well:

VCU, One of the most esteemed educational institutions connected to this business of ours, a school charged with grooming the next generation of creative marketing torch bearers, is no longer an Adcenter. School steward and MD Rick Boyko recently announced the school would now go by the handle VCU Brandcenter.

Aside form provoking relief that the school’s deciders didn’t go with something more oblique and annoying (or something with “Idea” in it) the name change seems apt. Boyko has spent his tenure at VCU retooling the center’s program to mint minds for the new era, expanding the scope of the school’s teachings with the goal of creating graduates that aren’t merely carriers of attractive portfolios and makers of attractive ads but creative thinkers and marketing problem solvers. In addition of a Masters in Creative Brand Management in 2005, to help spawn a new breed of creatively enlightened marketer and account person, and last year, the Advanced Management Training program for creative directors.

So if the Adcenter isn’t an ad center anymore, is the industry into which its students will graduate still an ad industry? Are you people still as men and women? The head of our agency of the year David Droga called himself “absolutely an advertising man” in our last issue and yet we recognized his agency’s work in part for its non-advertisingness. Is the distinction important? We’ve talked at length in Creativity about name calling–if it’s not advertising then what? –as have others. TBWA’s Lee Clow has famously pursued a vision of a “media arts company” as the evolution of an ad agency and has told us in the past: “Brands today cannot be sustained by what in the past has been called advertising…everything a brand does that connects to the consumer is media, is brand communication. If orchestrating the art of all those media conversations isn’t advertising, then perhaps the creativity of what we’ll do in the future needs a new name.”

So this week, as the Adcenter changes its name to the VCU Brandcenter and inhabits an astonishingly forward-thinking new building, we are again refusing to stagnate. Fulfilling the original vision for the school and ensuring that once again, our future will be more interesting than our past.

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