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HOLMBERG: How ‘RVA’ pride was born three years ago

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RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- Twenty years ago, Richmond was one of the murder capitals in the nation. Downtown was all but a ghost town.

Few had pride in a town governed by fear.

Now RVA pride is everywhere, on laptops of every brand, water bottles, beer trucks, cop cars, flags and dozens of banners all around town.

And this three-letter message is on countless bumpers, on every kind of vehicle, from all over the place.

It’s quite a turnaround for a town that once suffered from near terminal self-esteem.

And consider that it was a team of Virginia Commonwealth University students who came up with the simple but elegant logo that anyone can use -- and transform -- for free.

It started three years ago with Venture Richmond and the Martin Agency asking for help from those who are big participants in the creative side of the city – college students.

They came to VCU’s Brandcenter, where professor Kelly O’Keefe and others gave teams of marketing and communications students simple guidelines.

“We don’t want to give it the usual ‘let’s give it a catchy slogan’ approach,” O’Keefe recalled. “We want something the community can own . . . The other thing we asked for was . . . something that is modular, something that could be adapted.”

Four of the teams came up with some version of the RVA logo. Two of the teams had very similar pitches, O’Keefe said.

“There was a lot of brainstorming as a group,” recalled graduate Sara Cobaugh, who grew up in the area. “We all brought different perspectives to the team.”

The RVA abbreviation for Richmond, VA was already well-known in the underground scene, from RVA punk – which is famous in the international music world - to the art, music and literature-driven RVA Magazine.

“We saw an opportunity to take that and run with it,” Cobaugh said.

You can make your own customized RVA logo by going to to and follow the simple instructions. The free stickers can be found at a wide variety of locations.

This sticky RVA pride coincides with a general rebirth of the city, with far less violent crime and a flood of new residents and businesses into this historic, distinctive and creative town.

The students who came up with this popular branding graduated before it took off.

“Most of them are out of town, working at some of the best agencies in the country,” O’Keefe said.

But it’s been a thrill watching the simple Richmond brand flourish from afar, two of the graduates told CBS-6.

“It’s really awesome,” Cobaugh said. “Every now and then, even here in North Carolina, I’ll see someone on the highway with an RVA sticker on their car.”