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Former JWT creative chief Vann Graves to join VCU Brandcenter as executive director


By Bennett Bennett, Staff writer

June 14, 2018 | 5 min read

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Brandcenter has named Vann Graves as its new executive director.

Vann Graves VCU

Vann Graves, who held exec positions at BBDO, JWT Atlanta and McCann, has been named VCU Brandcenter's 5th executive director / VCU Brandcenter

Graves most recently held the position of chief creative at J Walter Thompson’s Atlanta office, and will be starting at Brandcenter's graduate program on August 10.

The 4As MAIP alum started his 25-year career as an intern at BBDO New York in 1993, spending 15 years there on brands such as Visa, AT&T, Snickers and M&Ms, and rose to the title of vice president-creative director. During his time there, Graves enlisted in the US Army post-9/11, serving seven years of combat time in Iraq and rising to the rank of captain.

It was his unique role as combat veteran and marketing exec that allowed him to address the issues following the deadly incident in Charlottesville, VA and brands' ability and willingness to take a stand on social injustices in an op-ed for The Drum in November.

After ending his military service, Graves joined McCann Worldgroup in 2009 and spent six years leading teams on clients such as the US Army, Lockheed Martin, American Airlines, Mastercard and others.

Graves went on to launch an agency of his own in Chattanooga, TN in 2015, reaching out to his network to help name what eventually was known as FL+G (pronounced ‘flag’). After two years there, he left the fledgling agency and joined JWT Atlanta as its chief creative, leading a team that worked on a roster that has included the US Marine Corps, Pennzoil, Jiffy Lube and others. Two days ago, he had announced on Agencyspy that he was leaving his post at the J Walter Thompson outpost.

In this current role, Graves has purview over the 22-year old graduate program based in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia.

The two-year, full-time Master's program accepts roughly 100 students per year, and splits them near-evenly between copywriting, art direction, experience design (formerly creative technology), creative brand management and strategy.

Graves will replace current interim director Brad Armstrong and becomes the fifth person to lead the portfolio school, following founder Diane Cook-Tench, Rick Boyko, and Helayne Spivak.

Said VCU president Michael Rao, Ph.D: “Along with my colleagues, I am delighted that Vann Graves is coming to VCU Brandcenter as its new executive director. He brings a wealth of expertise and life experience to the university. I look forward to witnessing the amazing things VCU Brandcenter faculty, staff and students will accomplish with Vann’s leadership and guidance.”

Ed Grier, dean of the VCU School of Business (which Brandcenter is a part of): “Vann’s unique combination of skills, along with his energy, influence and ties to Richmond make him the perfect fit to take the helm of the VCU Brandcenter. As businesses of all types are starting to recognize the importance of creative problem- solving, Vann’s leadership of the Brandcenter will play a critical role in the advertising industry and beyond.”

Graves added: “The decision to come to the Brandcenter was an easy one. The VCU Brandcenter embodies a culture of creative thinking and craft that is second to none and as our industry continues to evolve these are the skills that will be critical for its future leaders. The reputation of the school combined with such an amazing group of talented individuals in the alumni, the faculty and staff, the board and the members of the VCU community made this a unique opportunity and one that I was immediately drawn to.”

Graves has the designation of Fulbright Scholar to go with his numerous creative honors. He sits as a board member of the 4As, and has served on the Ad Council’s creative review committee. He holds degrees from Howard University, the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY and Harvard University.

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