The 2.5-to-1 odds of VCU Brandcenter students landing a job after school started playing out at the graduate program’s annual recruiter session.
About 250 recruiters from ad agencies and companies such as Facebook and Google descended on the Brandcenter over the course of two days for the reverse career fair, in which this year’s crop of 101 graduates are sought out for jobs, not the other way around.
The numbers put the odds in the students’ favor, with the Brandcenter boasting a 97 percent job placement rate or better each year. But they still make an effort to attract recruiters’ attention, with elaborately decorated interview stations that reflect each student’s personality and portfolio.
The event attracts advertising behemoths such as Arnold, BBDO and Crispin Porter & Bogusky, as well as companies such as CarMax, Carvana and CoStar Group. Brand consulting firms come too, such as Booz Allen, Solomon Page, Sylvain Labs and Zeus Jones.
Local participants this year include Barber Martin Agency, CapTech, ndp, Padilla/Joe Smith, Snag, The Martin Agency and Marketing Mixtape, whose founder, Whitney Asher, is a Brandcenter alum.
Ashley Sommardahl, director of student affairs and industry outreach for the Brandcenter and a member of its inaugural graduate class, said she sees more alums come back every year to recruit on behalf of agencies or companies where they now hold senior-level positions.
She also sees a trend of more graduates foregoing the agency career track and instead launching their own businesses right out of school – in some cases, during.
She said a recent alumni survey found that 77 percent of the more than 1,500 graduates the Brandcenter has produced in its 22 years considered starting their own agency, consultancy or other business.
“That was shockingly high to me. I thought it’d be more like 30 to 40 percent,” Sommardahl said. “From the survey, I also saw that the interest in entrepreneurship was high across all tracks and disciplines, and that our alums at the junior and mid-level were already considering it.”
Sommardahl said another notable statistic is a growth in the number of Richmond-based businesses that were founded by Brandcenter alums.
Examples include insurance firms Buddy Insurance and Pogo Insurance, consumer research firm Good Run Research, gift shop House of Floralie, marketing firm The Mom Complex, growler maker Shine Craft Vessels, home goods shop Roaring Pines, and ad agency Arts & Letters Creative Co., which launched last fall.
Embodying seemingly each of these trends is Arts & Letters’ Charles Hodges, who launched the Scott’s Addition-based agency with a leadership team that includes fellow Brandcenter grads Ian Fairbrother and Andy Grayson.
Of the agency’s 35 employees, about 20 are Brandcenter alums, Hodges said.
“A large portion of our company comes from the VCU Brandcenter. It’s one of the reasons we located the agency here in the first place,” he said.
While stints at agencies such as TBWA and Wieden+Kennedy took Hodges away from Richmond after graduating the Brandcenter in 2009, the Charlotte native kept the school’s home city as his preferred place to start a business when ready to make the plunge.
Among the alums who took part in this year’s recruiter session, having reviewed portfolios of this year’s graduates, Hodges said he sees the same entrepreneurial spirit among students that he took away from the Brandcenter and that brought him back to Richmond.
“I think the spirit of a lot of people that go to the Brandcenter is naturally entrepreneurial,” Hodges said. “Once you go through that year or two, a lot of them come out, and the barriers to trying an idea are just continuing to become lower and lower, so they are excited by that and guided by that spirit.”