The Invaluable VCU Brandcenter & VFH Partnership
Sometimes you just never know until you ask. That is the lesson that Maggie Guggenheimer of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFH) learned last year at the annual Art Works for Virginia conference in Richmond. It was the last presentation of a very long day of presentations when Guggenheimer sat down to listen to Kelly O’Keefe, a nationally-renowned marketing expert who teaches creative brand management at the VCU Brandcenter, known as one of the premier marketing graduate school programs in the country. “Like everyone else in the room that day, I was completely fascinated by everything Kelly had to say, and particularly his perspective on how a brand should reflect not what an organization wants people to think that it is, but what it does day to day.” When the presentation ended, she approached O’Keefe and told him about some of the opportunities and challenges her organization faced. The VFH, she told him, is the largest humanities council in the country, yet a lack of understanding of what the humanities actually encompass can often keep important audiences from lending their much-needed support. O’Keefe left with some background materials, and soon called Guggenheimer to say that he and his students were willing to take VFH on as a pro bono project.
“We had no idea at the time what a big deal this was. They only take two pro bono projects every year.” After spending some getting-to-know-you time, O’Keefe’s second-year graduate student teams dove deep into the project, including researching the image issues related to the humanities as a whole as well as interviewing key staff and board members. Three Brandcenter teams presented ideas to the VFH board in December. “One thing they really honed in on was the value of VFH’s public humanities work to the state of Virginia – the idea that a cultural reflection of Virginia highlights not only our incredible traditions in music, folklife, dance and food, but also our changing population and the unique individuals and untold stories that help complete our sense of history. They captured the ethos of our organization.” While the VFH is well known for signature programs like the public radio and podcast hit BackStory and the annual Virginia Festival of the Book, the Brandcenter helped Guggenheimer and her team learn to highlight the accessibility of all VFH programs, joining academic integrity with broad public relevance. The process, Guggenheimer said, has been “galvanizing and energizing,” and has been a hit with her board, whose members have seen great value in working with the young, dynamic team of students who represent a generation known for being culturally aware, and a generation critical to the future of the humanities. “I cannot say enough great things about Kelly O’Keefe and his whole team,” she said, “They instilled confidence during what can be a daunting process, and have been so fun to work with on top of it!”