Photo courtesy VCU Brandcenter
Richmond may have officially come out of the closet last month, but don't think that's the last you'll be hearing about it. If the students of VCU's Brandcenter have their way, this is a story that will run and run.
OutRVA is their response to a challenge set by Richmond Region Tourism, to present a compelling way to potentially attract greater numbers of LGBTQ tourists into the city. "The first phase was to get this idea of Richmond coming out," says Liam Schaefer, the Brandcenter volunteer team's strategist, "and to gather support within the community."
Schaefer and his four team members produced a simple sticker reading "Out," designed to be used alongside the now-ubiquitous RVA logo sticker, and asked businesses and the public to show their support by posting it all around the city. There's also a website, richmondisout.com , where the community is invited to share messages and "show the world what Richmond is all about," says Schaefer. A video on the site is intended to present a different side to the city that many think they already know.
Now the students are looking to build on OutRVA's naturally developing momentum with a second phase of the project. "The next stage is a letter-writing campaign, writing a coming-out letter from the city of Richmond," says team brand manager Trey Keeler. One version of the letter, by the group's copywriter, Jimmy Burton, is addressed to "Washington, D.C." and begins, "We've always been close. Like ‘109 miles on I-95' close," before announcing, "I'm gay" and "No, this isn't a phase."
Keeler says that celebrities and influencers both in and beyond the gay community also will be targeted. Letters will start rolling out gradually in the coming weeks, with the hope that they will get picked up and shared online and on TV. "Jimmy … has on his list Oprah, Ellen, Stephen Colbert," he says. And with further support, the students would like to parlay their work into "an actual advertising campaign" by placing the letters in publications in D.C. and other markets.
The Brandcenter team, rounded out by art directors Frank Guzzone and Blair Warren, even has its sights set on using the campaign in other states. "We'd love to take this message nationally, encouraging other cities to come out and embrace their LGBT communities," Schaefer says. "We would ideally see this as Richmond being the first of many cities."