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As we near the end of the school year at the VCU Brandcenter, I held my final Strategic Brand Concepts class in the school’s outdoor classroom, a large patio overlooking Downtown Richmond. Our special guest was Brandcenter professor, Charles Hall, a gifted creative director with experience at places like Wieden + Kennedy and Nike.

In the session, the students discussed their own assessments of their successes and failures with remarkable candor. The ability to follow any effort with an objective review of what went right and wrong is a talent that the best people in the business have cultivated. Let’s hope they take these lessons into their work going forward.

Special thanks to Scott Witthaus for the photographs!


Recently my Strategic Brand Concepts class at the VCU Brandcenter welcomed a fantastic guest speaker, Elizabeth Talerman, who was recently the VP, Senior Director of Marketing, Merchandising for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Elizabeth walk the students through the art and science of crafting a brand platform and bringing it to life, using her recent launch of a new Martha Stewart line at Macy’s as an example.

Elizabeth’s combination of words and images to build a compelling manifesto set the tone for creative executions to follow, which included both traditional media and unconventional acts like changing the awnings at Macy’s 34th street flagship, Martha Stewart blue.

I’ve collaborated with Elizabeth for many years on the VCU Brandcenter board and I’ve seldom met anyone who brings more creativity to the art of brand building. Her strategic work has helped shape powerful brands like IBM and Yahoo! But her real gift is to simplify complex subjects and demystify the sometimes-murky world of brands. This talent made it easy for students to grasp the steps involved in the process of building a great strategy. A special gift to our students, wrapped up in a tasteful blue ribbon.

Landscape Painting by Conor O\'Keefe

Landscape painting with my son, Conor O’Keefe

Each fall, I get a welcome reminder of the vital role that cultural inspiration plays in the work of communicators. I teach a graduate course on cultural exploration at the VCU Brandcenter. The curiosity to seek out culture, from opera to hip-hop, Rembrandt to graffiti artists, is a trait that most successful marketers exhibit. A grounding in culture provides the context for communication. Besides, it’s a fun course to teach. In past years our explorations have covered topics like homelessness, russian painting, truck drivers, carnies, army wives, NASCAR, and many other topics from high culture to popular culture.

In each case, the course is built around direct immersion. So when we learned about homelessness, we spent time with homeless people in a city park. (Instead of PowerPoint, the student presentation was scrawled on pieces of scrap cardboard.) 

Keep an eye on this space come September to see what we’re up to. 

I’ve had the pleasure of working with some great clients over my career, but few have had more passion and potential than the radio industry. I’ve enjoyed helping the marketing teams at the RAB and NAB with their efforts to move the radio brand forward. So when David Martin, whose N=1 blog provides one of the most thoughtful dialogues in the radio industry, contacted me to comment on the work. I was happy to comply. You can read all about it here: Radio Heard Here

Here’s an excerpt:

“Like anything, radio can be better, and the industry should be tireless in its efforts to make it so, but there is a great pool of positive equity that should not be squandered based on the rantings of a few critics.”