RVA: Galvanizing the Richmond Community

Case Study
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January 16, 2023



The RVA effort was born at Venture Richmond, a non-profit organization dedicated to the growth and vitality of downtown Richmond. At the time, Matt Williams was CEO of The Martin Agency—one of the 25 largest advertising agencies in the US and one of the most creatively recognized agencies in the world—and a member of Venture Richmond’s board.

Venture Richmond asked if he would spearhead the development of a new brand platform for Richmond—one that captured the city’s energy and unified its diverse residents and visitors around a story that told the world about the exciting things happening in the city.

Williams accepted. He and Venture Richmond’s Lucy Mead contacted Kelly O’Keefe, who at the time was Managing Director of the VCU Brandcenter. From there, they engaged VCU Brandcenter professors Caley Cantrell, Mark Avnet, and their students, along with the most respected marketing communications pros in the city, and they were off and running.

Our Approach

Developing a Strategy

The team conducted multiple one-on-one interviews with Richmond leaders, as well as three input sessions with 20+ community activists and opinion leaders.

The input pointed clearly to a strategy that captured the city’s past and future, to acknowledge its difficult history, and to show a path forward.

The common thread: the creativity at the center of everything that happens in Richmond, from entrepreneurial businesses, to nonprofits, to innovative cultural attractions and events. Even the city’s government was challenging conventional wisdom.

Additional research and strategy work was conducted by Brandcenter students, and the winning team presented an adaptable logo as the centerpiece of their creative concept.

Making a Mark

Creativity united every story that was part of the emerging Richmond brand, and the platform was built to accommodate all the stories Richmond had to tell—from government to business to culture. Every story would fit, as long as it illuminated something surprisingly creative about the city.

Richmond was (and remains) a center of creativity in every way. The world just didn’t know it, and the city hadn’t yet galvanized around the idea. If it could bring Richmond’s creativity to life in a new way, the team knew the community would rally.


Rally It Did

The “RVA” platform worked on multiple levels to spotlight the city’s creativity:

  • It replaced “Richmond” with the more current, vital, and challenging shorthand of RVA—a shorthand that gave new energy to the city by picking up a nickname already adopted by some of its most creative elements.
  • The mark itself was a window into everything creative about Richmond because the space inside the RVA mark could be filled with any illustration of the city’s creativity, and the line under the mark could change to tell whatever story lived within the mark. A website was developed by West Cary Group to empower the community to customize their own mark.
  • An introductory video also was produced by Elevation, and went on countless road shows around the community, introducing the idea to more stakeholders, gathering their feedback, and building consensus. The stakeholder gatherings, PR, and  storytelling were supported by The Hodges Partnership.

Ongoing Success

The roll out and enthusiasm for the RVA campaign led to its adoption beyond Richmond in the surrounding counties. The masterstroke of the campaign came, however, when the team suggested opening the RVA trademark for use by anyone. The open architecture of the RVA brand meant anyone in Richmond could express their own creativity through the mark, any way they liked. And the flood gates opened.

The RVA platform was adopted by people and organizations throughout Richmond—companies used it in their names, the Mayor put it on every trash truck, police car, and fire engine, thousands of Richmonders proudly displayed RVA bumper stickers, hats, mugs, t-shirts; RVA tattoos even started showing up all over the city.

By assembling a group effort to attract a brand, then giving it to the community to make their own, the city demonstrated how generosity in design can lead to greater participation and impact.

The brand was (and still is) as alive as the city. Richmonders came together to celebrate and spread the word about the creativity that makes our city so very special.

rva collage


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