Brandcenter alumni dominate Super Bowl 50


Last night, Johnny Roelofs (M.S.’13/B), a 2013 graduate of the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter, felt like a proud papa when the Audi commercial he helped conceive aired during the Super Bowl.

“The excitement around knowing that almost every person I know will [have seen] the baby that I started working on eight months ago is unmatched,” said Roelofs, a senior strategist at Venables Bell & Partners. “There aren’t many professions where your work is seen by so many people on such a big stage at the same time, and it’s a privilege to be given that opportunity.”

This year, VCU Brandcenter graduates worked on 13 TV spots that aired during the Super Bowl. Twenty different alumni played a role in those ads.

Roelofs’ Audi spot promoting its new R8 V10 Plus vehicle points out that man’s greatest accomplishments and improvements come from moments of choosing risk. Putting a man on the moon was a risky decision, Roelofs said, but it led to personal computers, laser surgery and countless other technologies we use today.

“The R8 is Audi’s top car and represents a series of great leaps forward in design and engineering,” he said. “But many of those leaps forward were driven by risky decisions that went against the ‘normal’ way of doing things in luxury automotive. It was those decisions that led to our best-engineered car yet. … We wanted to illustrate how the best advancements come from moments of risk and show how that mindset lives in the car itself.”

Brandcenter alumna Morgan Aceino helped develop Omelet’s ad celebrating 20 years of Pokémon in the brand’s first-ever Super Bowl spot. The Omelet team infused the spot with the energy and finesse needed to properly honor the Pokémon empire. Since the story had to both speak to the Trainers – the people who catch, train, care for, and battle with Pokémon – who have been with the franchise for 20 years and to spark the imagination of the next generation, the team spent extra time speaking to people from both camps.

Read more and watch the alumni’s Super Bowl spots.

Brandcenter alumnus takes remixing and collaboration to Cannes

Brandcenter alumnus Joseph Maro recently attended Cannes Lions, an annual international festival for people working in creative communications, advertising and related fields.

“I always wanted to be an inventor,” said Joseph “Fitz” Maro, a Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter alumnus. “I used to watch a lot of infomercials as a child, and I thought to myself ‘This is what I want to do,’ so I did.”

Cannes Lions, an annual international festival for people working in creative communications, advertising and related fields, was a natural draw to an inventive person such as Maro, who entered the Campaign US Fearless Thinker contest five years in a row hoping to land a trip to the event.

This year, Maro won the contest, which asked the question, “If you had the floor at Cannes, what industry-changing idea would you share?” The award granted him a week in France for the festival – which was held last month – where he wrote a diary published on the Campaign US website.

Maro thinks his belief in the message behind his entry, and his strong desire to attend, sealed the deal in this year’s contest. His winning video pushes for advertising to constantly embrace new technologies through remixing and collaboration, using the music industry and Paul McCartney to make the point.

Read more.

Share your feedback

Official_VCU_sealThank you for taking the time to complete VCU Alumni’s e-newsletter reader survey. We want to hear your thoughts so that we can improve the e-newsletter and deliver the information you want, when you want it. Please take a few minutes to answer the questions below, and be on the lookout later this summer for a revamped VCU Alumni e-newsletter.

Make your voice heard today!

Brandcenter: Brotherly love

brandcenter brothersEver since he was a kid, Matt Reamer (B.S.’12/H&S; M.S.’14/B) has been awed by the special connection between his mom and his older brother Dustin. They have a way of communicating that is distinctly their own.

“She understands him in ways that even my dad and I don’t comprehend,” said Matt, who at 27 is three years younger than Dustin. “This unique language that they have developed is 30 years in the making, and still evolving.”

With everyone else though, Dustin, who has autism and is nonverbal, has struggled to communicate. So when Matt graduated from the VCU Brandcenter in 2014 and was preparing to move across the country, he wanted to leave his family with something to make their lives easier.

He leveraged what he had learned at the Brandcenter — especially in his third-semester Physical Computing class — to come up with a device that would allow Dustin to communicate via long distance. Most augmentative and alternative communication devices on the market only allow communication between the caregiver and individual when they are within a few feet of each other.

“Essentially they are soundboards,” Matt said. “I took a look at a super-powerful, efficient and inexpensive technology that we all take for granted — text messaging. Texts allow for longer distance communication and, for our family, for basic everyday needs that Dustin struggled to communicate in the past. This device provides more freedom for both my mom and for Dustin, reducing the physical strain of walking from room to room whenever he needs something. Now, my mom and the rest of the family can easily make sense of what Dustin needs.”

Read more.

Third annual Battle for the Capital


The clock is ticking for the third annual Battle for the Capital!

Last year, your alma mater stomped the Spiders on the court AND in our alumni giving challenge. Help us do it again!

Make a gift (minimum: $5) online or through the Gold Line student calling program any time before midnight on game day, Feb. 25.

Visit to make your gift, learn more and follow the Battle live.


Brandcenter: Alumni continue to reshape industry

More than 114 million viewers — the most in U.S. history — tuned in to watch Super Bowl XLIX, a close, entertaining game between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks.

Of course, with the Super Bowl, the entertainment extends past the on-field plays. This year’s commercials provided much amusement as well. And, as in previous years, alumni from the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter presented some of the most talked-about ads.

“Naturally, in my biased opinion, these were some of the most refreshingly creative spots to run in the Super Bowl this year,” said Kelly O’Keefe, professor of brand management in the VCU Brandcenter, part of the School of Business. “But more importantly, they were listed by major industry sources as some of the best. Both the quantity and the quality of ads worked on by Brandcenter alumni speak to the growing role these professionals are playing in reshaping our industry.”

Read more.

Business: VCU Brandcenter at forefront of design movement

Advertising veteran Andrew LeVasseur will lead the VCU Brandcenter’s new experience design discipline, which focuses on the industry’s shift from brand communications to brand experiences.

The XD track, offered within the Brandcenter’s master’s program in the VCU School of Business, is accepting applications for fall 2015. The unique curriculum concentrates on the conception, design, prototyping and building of brand experiences that push the envelope of what is technologically possible.

“What an amazing time for our industry as we move from the design of ads to the design of experiences,” LeVasseur said. “I love design. I love the transformative nature of great design. I love that with applied design thinking, we can solve real business problems. And with applied design craft, we can make our collective experiences better.”

Students in the XD track will benefit from a newly appointed experience design studio space at the Brandcenter where they will be able to design, prototype and test their ideas on site.

The industry — including Brandcenter board members Rick Webb and Jeff Steinhour — has already expressed its support.

“The experience design track is the bridge between interaction design and branding,” said Webb, a writer, entrepreneur and investor. “It’s the digital version of planning. The Brandcenter implementing this track is a massive step in ensuring that solid brand management doesn’t lose its way in a world of infinite touch points. That sounds like jargon, but how about this: nerds plus brand in one employee. Beat that.”

Read more.

VCU Alumni celebrates outstanding volunteers

service awardsVirginia Commonwealth University will honor a collection of its most dedicated and accomplished alumni at VCU Alumni’s Alumni Volunteer Service Awards celebration.

The awards celebrate alumni who have worked with particular devotion to serve the VCU community. VCU Alumni, an umbrella organization providing coordination and support for an alliance of alumni constituent organizations, presents the awards.

Recipients will be honored Oct. 24 at the Richmond Marriott. Each of the top award recipients will receive a handmade glass medallion featuring the VCU seal. Alumnus Sean Donlon (B.F.A.’12/A) crafted the medallion. Get more information and register to attend the event. 

Read more.

Brandcenter: Scholarship recognizes alumnus’s perseverance

burdettBy Nan Johnson

“I’m still in awe that it exists,” Ted Burdett (M.S.’08) said of the scholarship created in his name at the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter.

Burdett, an alumnus of Tulane University and of the Brandcenter’s second creative brand management class, is now an account supervisor on the Google Fiber account at San Francisco’s Venables Bell and Partners.

His road to Venables, though, wasn’t exactly smooth sailing.

“During a Tulane reunion, I met up with a few friends at the New Orleans Jazz Festival,” he said. “We started talking about what we were doing and a few of them were Brandcenter students. I remembered that my favorite undergraduate courses were in advertising.”

But instead of applying to the Brandcenter at his friends’ recommendation, he traveled to Thailand to teach English with the intention of bouncing from country to country to see the world and to experience different cultures.

“I got homesick in Thailand. It was hard to reach out to family and friends, and I started thinking about those conversations I had at jazzfest with my Brandcenter friends,” he said.

Read more.

News from Development and Alumni Relations

Major announcement: Enterprise CRM chosen

Marti Heil

Marti Heil

Many colleagues are talking about the rigorous RFP process that Development and Alumni Relations and VCU Technology Services have been leading over these past six months to select a replacement for our 30-year-old database — an enterprise CRM (constituent relationship management) fundraising database solution. I am excited to announce that the university has finalized a contract with Blackbaud to purchase the Blackbaud eCRM as the database for VCU DAR.

Blackbaud eCRM is a robust and comprehensive solution that combines all the functionality and features required by a complex fundraising operation like VCU’s. Blackbaud eCRM is one of the leading providers in our industry and is used by institutions such as Yale University, Ohio State University, University of Georgia, University of Michigan, UNC-Chapel Hill and Indiana University. This product will allow VCU not only to improve our fundamental business processes but also to enhance all fundraising and universitywide constituent management.

I would like to thank the members of the selection committee for their tireless effort: Jackie Colbert, Alex Henson, Gordon McDougall, Samantha Marrs and Lauren Shiver. The next several weeks will be spent finalizing the project timeline and preparing for Blackbaud team to be on-site and to begin the 12- to 15-month conversion. To learn more, please review information about the project on our website.

New leadership team
I am pleased to announce two recent additions to our DAR leadership team.

Christopher Ritrievi recently started as senior associate vice president for campaign leadership and constituent relations. As senior AVP, Chris serves as campaign director and works closely with deans, development directors and other senior leaders in portfolio management. Chris previously worked in fundraising at institutions including Princeton, Stanford and Michigan State. Most recently, he helped to plan a $1 billion campaign at Indiana University’s Bloomington Campus. He holds an M.B.A. from Lehigh University and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Princeton.

Henry Davis III, CPA, joins us as the new director of budget and finance. Henry most recently worked at GRTC Transit System where, as CFO and controller, he was responsible for a $47 million annual budget. Henry has a degree in commerce and accounting from the University of Virginia, and he joins our team at a key point in our campaign budget planning.


Marti K.S. Heil
Vice President
Development and Alumni Relations

P.S.: I hope you will join VCU Alumni as we welcome the Class of 2018 to campus at the annual Ram Spirit Walk on Aug. 19. Learn more.
By the numbers: July 1-June 15
*Complete end-of-fiscal year numbers were not available yet, but we did not want to delay our announcement.

  • $61.6 million raised toward goal of $70.3 million
  • 10,625 active, dues-paying members of VCU Alumni
  • 10,474 alumni donors
  • $8.2 million raised from alumni donors

Efforts by the Gold Line call center (annual fund) resulted in:

  • 4,464 new gift and pledges for a total of $361,803
  • 1,859 first-time donors making a pledge or gift
  • 36 percent of all Gold Line gifts made via credit card
  • 851,000 dials or attempts

Giving highlights
* Significant gifts and pledges recorded in the past quarter include:

  • The Beverly J. Warren Scholarship was established through gifts and pledges of more than $115,000 from the VCU community in honor of Provost Beverly J. Warren, who left VCU to become the 12th president of Kent State University. Read more.
  • Marty Johnson, M.D. (H.S.’80/M), and Olinda Young (B.S.’75/E; M.P.A.’81/H&S), donated to VCU a Sefer Torah, a powerful symbol and moving presence in Jewish worship and community life. It will be held and safeguarded by the VCU Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives. Read more.
  • The Children’s Hospital Foundation Endowed Chair in Pediatric Cancer Research was established in the Massey Cancer Center and will be used to attract and retain scientists or physician-scientists whose focus relates to pediatric cancer research.
  • Through a $500,000 gift from HCA, the HCA Distinguished Executive in Residence Professorship was established in the School of Allied Health Professions’ Department of Health Administration. Each year, one or more distinguished active or retired industry executives will be selected to serve as the Executive in Residence for a period of one to four weeks.

Alumni highlights

  • VCU Alumni conducted its inaugural annual meeting and a leaders’ colloquium in May.
  • At spring Commencement, VCU Alumni welcomed our newest graduates and their families, distributing more than 5,000 goodie bags and offering a “selfie” station.
  • In April, VCU Alumni celebrated Alumni Month with more than 60 activities and events, including Rams Night Out, Monroe Scholars Book and Author Luncheon and a winery tour.
  • Also during Alumni Month, more than 630 alumni and guests came to campus for the annual Reunion Weekend. MCV Campus alumni who are graduates of 1964 and before and those who graduated in a year ending in 4 or 9 were invited back, along with all RPI alumni and members of the African-American Alumni Council. See pictures from the weekend. Save the date for next year’s Reunion: April 17-19, 2015
  • This year’s Rams at Work program saw more than 175 boxes of VCU spirit items shipped to alumni in their workplaces throughout the country.
  • VCU Alumni kept busy in March, too, hitting the road for the A-10 and NCAA tournaments and hosting events in NYC and San Diego. Regional chapters nationwide threw watch parties for local alumni to cheer on the Rams.

Event highlights

  • Sixty-one Virginia Commonwealth University faculty were invested in endowed professorship and chair positions at a May ceremony at The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia. About 300 guests, including donors, faculty, friends and family, gathered to recognize their accomplishments and to thank generous donors for their support.
  • More than 350 Virginia Commonwealth University scholarship donors and student recipients gathered in February 2014 for the 15th annual Monroe Park Campus Endowed Scholarship Dinner at The Jefferson Hotel. Hosted by the VCU Foundation, the School of Business Foundation and the School of Engineering Foundation, the event brought students and donors together in an atmosphere of gratitude and celebration. See photos from the event.
  • The MCV Foundation hosted a capacity crowd of 390 at the ninth annual Scholarship Brunch in February bringing together donors of named scholarships and their respective scholars. See photos from the event.
  • The MCV Society gathered for a reception in April at Historic Tredegar. This annual event recognized all donors who have made planned gifts to benefit the MCV Campus.
  • The Shining Knight Gala, held March 29, highlighted Candi Spraggins and her team of caregivers. The gala raised $143,000 to support the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at the VCU Level 1 Trauma Center.
  • The 2014 Massey Challenge powered by HDL, Inc. culminated at this year’s Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k presented by MARTIN’S on March 29. More than 3,000 participants ran, walked, or cheered to raise funds and awareness for research at VCU Massey Cancer Center in Massey’s largest annual fundraiser, raising nearly $500,000 this year.