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Richmond native returning home to helm VCU Brandcenter

The Brandcenter building on Jefferson Street. (Jonathan Spiers)

RICHMOND, Va. — Vann Graves’ adventures in advertising have come full circle, as the Richmond native, Army veteran and ad industry vet has been tapped as the next executive director of the VCU Brandcenter.

Most recently chief creative officer at J. Walter Thompson, Atlanta, Graves was announced Thursday as the school’s fourth director in its 22-year-history. He succeeds Helayne Spivak, who has led the school since 2012 and announced her departure last May.

Graves, whose agency work has included stints at McCann and BBDO, both in New York, said he’s been eyeing a return to Richmond for years, having declined an invitation in 2012 by former Brandcenter chairman Mike Hughes to apply for the post when then-director Rick Boyko stepped down.

“It just wasn’t the right time,” Graves said Thursday of the previous offer in 2012. “I just wasn’t senior enough and didn’t have enough work experience to think that I could bring to the students, at that point, what they would need as far as leadership.”

Six years later, Graves, 49, said he is now ready.

Over the years, Graves has helped guide such brands as American Airlines, AT&T, Cigna, Coke, GE, Lockheed Martin, MasterCard, M&Ms, Shell Oil Co., Snickers, U.S. Army and Visa. At McCann, he worked on Lockheed Martin’s “The Field Trip to Mars,” a virtual reality project that racked up awards at the 2016 Cannes Lions festival.

Graves said such experience has given him enough industry cred to feel confident leading the Brandcenter.

“If it wasn’t the Brandcenter, I wouldn’t have thought to leave (J. Walter Thompson), because I’ve only been there just under two years,” Graves said. “It was the opportunity that’s been hovering around for a long time, like: ‘Wait, it’s available? Yes! I want to do this, or at least try.’”

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