Category Archives: Grad School

The Most Important Brand You Never Think Of

I admit I have not given this blog the attention it needed over the past year.  Needless to say school has kept me very busy. Plus, I’ve got some very exciting projects I’m working on outside the world of academia that I’ve been focusing on.  Either way, as we reach the end of the semester I’m reminded that my time here is growing short.  Soon enough I will be back in the thick of finishing my final semester and trying to get a job.  I thought I would share an article I wrote last year about this time that was published on IHAVEANIDEA.  You can link to the online article here or read it below.  Its never too early to start polishing up the personal brand!

There is no escaping it.  This tech-ed up world we’re living in has made dodging the marketer’s message nearly impossible.  So much so, that as consumers we are all growing increasingly complacent to the onslaught of branded messaging we confront on a daily basis.  As a student of the VCU Brandcenter, a microcosm of self-proclaimed brand junkies, the experience may be slightly different.

We love this stuff.  Probably too much.

I remember well the first assignment I received in a course on brand engagement.  At the professor’s instruction, I was to record in a journal every brand that I consciously engaged with during one single day.  Simple, right?  My mind was fried by the time I polished off my Cheerio’s.  There I sat, on my Ikea couch, watching a TV series on Netflix, streamed via Roku, on my Panasonic television, while checking email on my iPhone and devouring a bowl of Big G cereal.  All before 8 AM.  And while I thought I was being particularly clever recognizing all this hardcore brand engagement, I was amazed to see my list of brands dwarfed by many of my fanatical peers.  I think the winning list included nearly 200 brands.  In one day.

While the Brandcenter may represent somewhat of an anomaly in that regard, it’s in the context of this observation that I can’t help but express some surprise at how infrequently people consider themselves among the most important brands in their life.

Whether we like it or not, we all act as our own personal brand.  And much like the popular brands we all love (and love to hate), the things we do and say are often trumped by how others perceive us.  It may seem unfair but that’s the way it works.  Don’t think you’re that petty?  Well, examine your own purchasing behavior and you may see similar patterns.  How many times have you been torn between products and chosen the one wrapped in sexier packaging?  Are you more willing to take a risk on a new product because of its cool logo or recognizable brand?  Of course you are.  We all are.

Managing a brand is hard work and requires a high level of commitment.  One advantage that we, as individuals, have over corporate brands is agility.  If you’re unhappy with your current brand, simply change it.  It can be as simple as minding your wardrobe, tweaking your vocabulary or reinvigorating that limp handshake.  Obviously these small transformations represent the most basic of personal branding tactics.  However, implementing a more strategic branding initiative doesn’t have to be as complex as it seems.  Look at world famous brands like Coca-Cola, Nike, and Levi’s – sure they have brand values.  A brand voice.  An essence.  And while all of this may feel very intangible on the surface, each of these brands are rooted in something very real.  A passion and dedication to their respective craft that transcends the product itself.

This same concept can be applied with equal magnitude to shaping your own brand.  Find your passions, what you want to stand for and inject them with your own personality.  Be fluid.  Be flexible.  These things change over time and your brand should evolve in parallel.  Just keep in mind that there is no right answer and no real risk.  No ROI to track.  No shareholders to please. Just you: an army of one.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the annual recruiting event for graduating Brandcenter students.  It is attended by hundreds of the world’s top ad agencies on the hunt for the industry’s hottest young talent.  It was truly something to behold.  For two days, the school was transformed into a gallery of brilliant personal branding.  I didn’t see a thing that wasn’t astonishingly unique and creative.  The Brandcenter Class of 2012 set the bar high – not only for future graduates of the Brandcenter, but for personal brands everywhere.

So whether you count yourself among the graduates plunging into the workforce for the first time this May, or those simply trying to ignite and propel a prosperous career, know that the secret to success may be more manageable than you thought.  I’ve found that the best way to be treated like a junior is to act like one.  If you want to be perceived as a professional you can just as easily be one of those, too.  But that’s the beauty of being your own brand manager; you call the shots.

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Start Over

I created this using my own handwriting as a font to make a poster.

I thought it turned out well and wanted to share.




this is me…

13 and a half hours into a typical day at the Brandcenter.

Been at school since 8:30 am, its now 10:00 pm.

Time to head home and keep working.

Am I crazy for enjoying this so much?!







Bad Ad Redesign

Life at the Brandcenter is officially full throttle.  I will do a post sometime soon about how awesome it is and some of the really cool things we have been doing.  In the meantime I wanted to share an assignment I created for a creative thinking class.  The idea is to find an ad that misses the mark or is in some way bad, then redesign it.

The ad I chose was from Lego.  In all fairness I don’t think this ever actually ran.

I’m a fan of Lego so I was disappointed to see them do something like this. I don’t think it was done in bad taste but this just isn’t a topic for Lego to tackle. I’m just glad they didn’t actually go for an image of the Twin Towers built as multi-colored Legos.

That would have been worse!

I get that they are trying to impress upon consumers that you can literally build anything with Legos. I agree. Thats a really attractive selling feature and something that a very broad demographic can associate with. This ad missed the mark and went after a very sensitive subject. There are a lot of very iconic structures that they could have done this with. Choosing a different landmark will get the same point across and will give Lego the freedom to add more personality to their advertisement.

I redesigned this print ad and came up with this…

Considering I am not an art director and have little visual design training I think it came out pretty well.  I tried to keep it true to the brand values, keep it light and fun, but still appeal to the older “lego architect”.

To be clear, these are built out of Legos.

The Chicago Dept. of Tourism may not be a fan but I think it is an improvement to Lego’s original ad.

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Brandcenter – Day 1

While I dont know that I would technically consider yesterday my first day at the Brandcenter considering I have no classes until next week, it was the first day the class of 2013 was all together for orientation.  It felt good to finally meet everyone after months of connecting (…ok, stalking) on facebook.  I didn’t meet a single person I wouldn’t love to work with over the next few years.  I am very excited to get into the curriculum and see the work that everyone puts out.

The nature of orientation is to take care of a lot of housekeeping for incoming students.  Regardless, I still came away with quite a few pearls of wisdom from professors and alumni that spoke to us.  I thought I would recap a few of the points that I connected with:

Melissa Cabral – Strategic Planner at Martin Agency & VCU Brandcenter Alumni shared with us 3 tips on how to not suck at the Brandcenter

1.  Find your happy place – Take time to center yourself and recharge your batteries.

2.  Be Patrick Swayze (from Dirty Dancing) – Be the guy everyone wants to dance with, dependable, trustworthy, make the people you dance with look better just by association.

3.  Don’t be afraid to deviate – Just be yourself, figure out your own style, what you are willing to compromise on etc. and remember…haters gonna hate!

Don Just – Head of Creative Brand Management track & Caley Cantrell – Head of Communication Strategy track

  • Think of this as a PHd program

                P – Professional & Proactive

                H – Humble

                D – Dignity

  • Conflict can be a good thing, just don’t make it personal —-  “No Pressure, No Diamonds”  (Loved this!!)
  • Being a leader can be a thankless job but it is something everyone needs to experience and should get as much practice in as possible
  • Get comfortable with rejection – as simple as this seems and much as I hate the idea of facing constant rejection I do think this is valuable advice….especially in the ad world

In a recording of a Friday Forum (more on this to come) from last year there were some very interesting statistics shared from a survey comparing Brandcenter students and top MBA students.  I don’t remember all the specifics but one that really stuck out was that nearly 25% of Brandcenter students that participated in the survey admitted to having cried in the last 24 hours.  The percentage of MBA’s was significantly lower.  And for some reason most people seem to be tracing this back to Don Just (or Mr. Just as he corrected me yesterday in our introductions after I made an only slightly sarcastic remark about looking forward to spending lots of time with Don), who is the head of my track.

All in all orientation was great.  Yes, there was an earthquake and we are all chalking it up as a good omen.  But I have stocked up on kleenex just in case Mr. Just gets the best of me.


I know I may have lost a few followers by taking a crippling break from the blogosphere but I am happy to report that I am officially settled into the new place and getting ready to start school this week.  For those that may be checking out adified for the first time I have included a little background on the topic:

Mar 2011 – After some serious self reflection, networking, and chats on the subject with as many people as I could get in touch with I decided to abandon my plans to pursue an MBA and go for a Masters program more suited to my personality, interests, and strengths.  Finished prepping for GMAT so I could get started on a pretty intense application to my new target program.

Apr 2011 – Completed my application to the Creative Brand Management track at VCU’s Brandcenter, the top advertising school in the Western Hemisphere.

May 2011 – Flew out to Richmond, VA to interview for a position in the class of 2013 and submit my application.  2 weeks later received my acceptance letter.  Elation.

Aug 2011 – Completed my last day as a Buyer for General Mills, packed everything I own (including a wife & offspring) into a truck and drove 1,200 miles to Richmond, vA (RVA).  Saw new parts of the country, beautiful and hideous.  Moved into an apartment we had not previously stepped foot in.  Were rescued by 3 saints from Arizona.  Overcame sickness.  Spent a lot of money getting ready for school.  Spent a lot more money paying for school.  Feel adequately (maybe…) prepared to start school.  Positive I have no idea what I got myself into.

With all that has taken place over the last few months I am somewhat surprised to be here.  It felt in some ways like the day would never come.  I’m glad it has.

In an attempt to bring things full circle and start off on the right foot, the reason I started this blog was to document my experience at the Brandcenter.  Hopefully it can provide some insight to what I think will be a very interesting 2 years for me.  I would love to be able to help inspire future advertising students considering applying in the same way I was inspired by the blogs of Brandcenter students in previous classes.  On top of that, I’m hoping to fill adified with cool ad, branding, and design stuff that I find noteworthy.

Below are some pictures I have taken over the past 2 weeks in RVA.  Considering I’m getting around exclusively on 2 wheels now I am hoping to keep snapping photos of what I am finding to be a very cool city.

I apologize for the extended silence but keep checking back and I’ll try to keep things updated.

Robert E. Lee School - An old school turned apartment building & our new pad

view coming into the new apartment

Home base - I'll be spending a lot of time here

the new ride

My neighbor - Virginia Historical Society

Stonewall Jackson Monument

my new barbershop...places like this are hard to come by

Here’s to the next 2 years!

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Back Online

It has been far too long since I took the time to put together a new post.  Just know that there is good reason for that.  In the past week or so I have quit my job at General Mills, driven 1,200 miles to Richmond Virginia, moved into a new apartment, and am making preparations to begin grad school at VCU Brandcenter.

I also just got my internet installed yesterday.

Needless to say, I’ve been busy.  But thats not a bad thing.  With busy comes more to blog about.  The unfortunate part is that you will have to wait just a while longer before I get my act together and post it all.

Be patient…it’s coming!

channeling my inner hipster…

Aside from finding an apartment in Richmond, one of the school related needs I have been addressing in my mind over the past few weeks has been transportation.  I have always wanted a scooter to zip around town on so I pitched the idea to the boss.  Needless to say I am now looking at bikes. 

I do have a nice mountain bike that I picked up last year.   However, due to the torcherous Minnesota winters it sat in my garage untouched from about October of last year until earlier this month.  It pains me to say even entertain the thought of gettting rid of the bike considering I’ve only put about 30 miles on it but the conclusion I have come to is that if I am going to be riding this thing 5-7 miles per day to and from school I think I need something more practical for urban commuting.  Those of you that have ridden a big knobby-tired mountain bike long distances on the street can certainly empathize. 

After much research I am in the process of putting together a deal with a dude I came across via craigslist for what I think may be exactly what I am looking for.  Cue Vampire Weekend — My first fixie.  He has a brand new fixed gear  by Specialized, still under warranty and in great shape.  Much like my mountain bike.  They are comparable in price so we may just swap bikes….no cash needed.    I am meeting him this afternoon so I will be sure to let you know how it goes.

Those of you that know me can attest that style is equally important as function in my mind.  Thats what I love about the Roll….I get the quality and dependability of Specialized bikes without sacrificing a sweet looking ride!  Look at these bikes and tell me they dont look amazing:

If I manage to make the swap I would be getting the black bike at the top.  It happens to be my least favorite color scheme of the 3 but alas it was all I could find.  It would be pretty sweet to put those blue rims on the black frame so maybe I can piece something together later.  

Coming from ultra conservative corporate america where hipsters, artists, and roustabouts are looked at only from the top of one’s nose this definitely feels like a transgression.  It also feels so good!  Perhaps I am just now embracing the real me and pursuing the life I have wanted all along.  I’ve already got the beat up Vans classics, Ray-Bans, and now this (Note: I still cannot grow a mustache).  It was only a matter of time I suppose after deciding to go to the Brandcenter that this would rub off.  I’m just getting an early start.  Whatever your opinion of this whole matter is just know that I am excited!  I have a good feeling about this whole thing.

On an related note I feel that the new bike will likely jeopardize my ability to heckle my kid brother Bert about being a hipster. 

If you can’t beat ’em join ’em!

Stay Tuned…

Welcome to adified.  This is a blog all about my trek into the world of advertising.

First stop – VCU Brandcenter

The VCU Brandcenter is esteemed as the top advertising program in the country.  I will be joining the Brandcenter Class of 2013 (hereforth known as BC 13) specializing in Creative Brand Management.  The Creative Brand Management program offers a unique alternative to a marketing MBA and is very competitive.  I am one of about 20 CBM’s selected for admission this fall.  Here are a few pictures of where it all goes down:

I’ll do my best to keep the blog updated as I move to Richmond, emerse myself in advertising and brand management, and anything else noteworthy along the way.