I still remember very clearly the first day of orientation when the Brandcenter was still the Adcenter and I was surrounded by my classmates for the first time. The famed advertising legend Rick Boyko was going through the tough realities of the coming year. Several things stood out to me about that speech, but there was one thing that really scared me: many of us would not end up working in advertising.
Although I did graduate from the Brandcenter and work in advertising as an art director, I quickly discovered something that was difficult to come to terms with: I disliked the life of working in advertising. Was I a failure? What would I do if I didn’t do this? How would I support myself? Did I just waste thousands of dollars on a Master’s degree? I wanted a different life than advertising provided. So, I decided to strike out on my own to follow my childhood dream of being a photographer. I started with family photography and I’m certain my friends and classmates were more than a little confused.
Now, ten years later, I am a commercial photographer focusing on interiors and branding photography. I’ve been published in Architectural Digest, New York Magazine, domino.com, Rue, House Beautiful and the list goes on. I’ve traveled the country many times for documentary work. I am booked out months in advance. Over the years of growing my business, I can look back on this degree and thank my lucky stars the Brandcenter accepted me.
It showed me how to think like an entrepreneur and how strategy is the key to success in any business you dive into. It taught me that you need to differentiate your product and message to be successful.
The truth is, making ads is the least of what you gain from the degree. You learn how to speak to a client. You learn what a brand is. You learn that a brand needs to be distinctive and clear – that it has to deliver on the same message over and over again. You learn what a strategy statement is. What a core belief structure is. You learn that success for a company comes with delivering on a fundamental truth that you always stay true to. If you plan to strike out on your own or think that advertising isn’t the right career path, I want you to know that you’re totally still in the right place and I have a few pieces of advice for you:
1. No one succeeds in a vacuum.
If there is a path you want to pursue, talk to anyone and everyone who will talk to you about it. Surround yourself with passionate people who are pursuing their dreams. A group will help you learn faster.
2. Listen to podcasts for entrepreneurs like NPR’s “How I Built This”.
They are life-giving! You will learn very quickly that everyone screwed up a lot along the way and failure is a necessary part of success.
3. Don’t allow the pressure of what others may think to stop you from going for something.
People and paths change. You are the one living your life. What is right for someone else is not necessarily right for you. No one has your unique gifts. The worst thing that can happen is that you will fail. And you know what? No one will laugh. Your ventures are often an inspiration to people who you don’t know are watching.
My brand as a business owner has altered and been refined along the way. I have turned to my education to figure out what that brand should look and feel like. Now that I am working on growing my business, I am yet again turning to those same pillars to redefine my messaging and mission. I would do it all over again if I had the chance. Today I have the career of my dreams, a business I never knew I wanted, and I am grateful to be a Brandcenter Alum.
-Raquel Langworthy, VCU Brandcenter Art Direction track, class of 2009