[Q&A] VCU Health’s CMO Talks About Activating the Brand: Day Two and Beyond

Managing a brand change is no easy task. But, when done right, it can be an opportunity to propel the entire organization forward. For VCU Health, that meant unifying its brand to represent its evolution into a comprehensive system of care, education, and research. With the ambitious goal of bringing together 11,000 employees under a new common purpose (to relentlessly explore new ways to improve human life), VCU Health needed to meaningfully communicate and activate its new identity to galvanize teams around the new brand.

While the task of defining and expressing the brand is largely done, the hard work of activating and sustaining the brand is just beginning. Monigle’s Senior Marketing Director Kimberly Hofland recently had a chance to catch up with VCU Health’s Chief Marketing Officer Cynthia Schmidt to discuss the new brand and how it has been gaining traction in the months since the launch.

Kim: What were the key indicators of success for the VCU Health rebranding project?

Cynthia: One of the key markers of success was the adoption of the new brand architecture by the institution’s leadership, both within the health enterprise and the university.

When the university went through a rebranding initiative five years ago, the VCU Health System and Medical Center identities were included in the new design package, but the solution was not universally embraced. We knew that in order for this rebrand to work, we had to have both camps on board and willing to share in the brand governance going forward. All of the leadership participated in the brand launch activities, and all of the communications reflected the new design from day one. They enthusiastically supported the initiative, both in funding and in public support.

Kim: What were the most challenging or unanticipated aspects of the project? 

Cynthia: One story clearly demonstrates the challenge in translating perceived buy-in on the strategy to practical application. Although all of the Deans universally signed off on the new brand, once the actual implementation of the new design system began trickling down into the health science schools, some began to push back not realizing the full extent of what they had agreed to. There was a perception that VCU Health was more of a descriptor just for clinical services and some schools were concerned about losing their linkage back to the university enterprise. This was typified by one Dean who remarked, “Oh, I thought this was just for our business cards and letterhead.”

Kim: Tell us a bit about the key milestone you were trying to hit as part of the brand launch.

Cynthia: One of the biggest challenges was that we had a very hard deadline that could not be moved; the UCI Road World Championships – one of cycling’s pinnacle events – was coming to Richmond, and VCU Health was a significant sponsor. We knew this was a unique opportunity to showcase our new identity not only to Richmond, but also to the world. This required hard decisions and quick turnarounds, neither of which academic medical centers are typically known for!

 

Kim: How did you maximize awareness and the new brand presence at launch?

Cynthia: On the first day of the UCI Road World Championships, over 10,000 freshly branded t-shirts were worn by VCU Health team members as they lined the course to cheer on the athletes. Building-sized banners featuring the new design system hung from parking decks across campus. New temporary VCU Health signs marked the entrances to the buildings. And high above the interstate, a massive new VCU Health illuminated sign replaced the old VCU Medical Center sign. On the airwaves, a newly-branded TV spot ran during the race broadcast reaching over 300 million viewers (that’s more than the Super Bowl!). We all knew there was much more work to be done, but the entire team breathed a sigh of relief knowing we had achieved the goal of launching in time for the race.

Kim: Okay, so finally I have to ask; what’s it been like to work with the Monigle team?

Cynthia: Monigle played a crucial role in helping the launch of VCU Health succeed on many levels. The discovery phase was thorough and insightful, and the team quickly picked up on the nuances, politics, and challenges that we faced. You brought a disciplined approach not only to the planning, but also to the implementation and follow-through. You guys listened, were flexible and adaptable, and were able to synthesize years of background materials to arrive at an elegant solution. One of the highlights was when you brought together teams from both the University and the Health System for an all-day design workshop at your offices, which helped inspire better collaboration between our disparate entities and engaging everyone in hands-on activities to better understand our unified brand.

Interested in learning more about our approach to academic health care branding? Download the entire VCU Health Rebrand case study here.

Cynthia Schmidt from VCU Health will be part of an upcoming panel discussion speaking about how the VCU Health rebrand acted as a rallying point for unification across the system. Find out where you can hear the story first hand here.