Boyko Stepping Down on Top
Retiring Brandcenter director joins American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame
University Public Affairs
Rick Boyko has always been an ad guy. Even when he was a kid, Boyko paid special attention to the billboards he could see from the backseat of the car. His father worked in advertising, and Boyko used to love watching him take on projects in the family’s garage.
Last week, a lifetime of devotion to that unique, offbeat world culminated in Boyko, director of the VCU Brandcenter, the university’s renowned graduate marketing communications and advertising program, reaching the pinnacle of the advertising field. Boyko was inducted into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame in a ceremony in New York on March 28.
Even after decades of successes, Boyko seems surprised about his selection, wondering aloud if he truly deserves it.
“It’s something I was not expecting nor do I feel that I’ve accomplished enough to receive it,” he said.
However, Mike Hughes and others have no doubts.
“(Boyko) is a remarkably focused and determined leader who never, ever gives up,” said Hughes, president of the Martin Agency and chairman of the VCU Brandcenter Board of Directors since its founding in 1995. “His impact on the (Brandcenter) and on the industry will be felt for decades to come.”
The honor arrives at a suitably reflective moment in Boyko’s career. After nine years at the helm, Boyko is retiring in June as director of the Brandcenter. As Hughes points out, it’s been a transformative near-decade.
Enrollment at the Brandcenter has more than doubled to more than 200 students during Boyko’s tenure, and the number of professors in the program has tripled. The program’s name has changed from the Adcenter to the Brandcenter to reflect changes in the advertising industry, and the program’s home has moved from a rented facility in Shockoe Slip to a cutting-edge building on campus designed by a world-class architect. Also, the Brandcenter’s already sterling reputation has grown more pristine, and the program has picked up armloads of honors, including multiple sources naming them the best graduate advertising program in the country.
“The foot on the gas for the last nine years has belonged to Rick Boyko,” Hughes said. “He has damned the torpedoes and moved full speed ahead. His vision has been crystal clear and set in concrete.”
Local advertising industry veteran Cabell Harris has been teaching at the Brandcenter since near the beginning of Boyko’s tenure, and he’s been a witness to the program’s development on Boyko’s watch. Of Boyko, Harris said, “I’m a big fan.”
“He’s tenacious,” Harris said. “He sets his goals, he has a vision and he gets it done. He’s done everything that he sought to do for the Brandcenter. I can’t be more impressed with an individual.”
Boyko’s service at the Brandcenter has played a large part in the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame tapping him, but his career before he joined higher education was similarly impressive. Boyko’s resume includes stops at such agencies as Leo Burnett Chicago, Chiat/Day Los Angeles and Ogilvy & Mather. At Ogilvy, he ascended the ranks to simultaneously hold the positions of chief creative officer and co-president of the agency’s New York office and North American chief creative officer. He said that his work at Ogilvy, especially being part of a group that helped restore the agency to its past glories, was one of two accomplishments, along with his work at the Brandcenter, that he knew carried weight and made an impact that ultimately would endure.
Boyko elected to leave the industry world for the Adcenter in 2003 because of an interest in educating young people in the field. In addition, Hughes said, Boyko recognized that his impact on advertising could be substantial working on the VCU campus.
“He saw at the Brandcenter an opportunity to do more than just lift up one company,” Hughes said. “He saw that he could raise the bar for the entire industry. And that’s exactly what he did.”
Harris said Boyko proved to possess an ideal blend of attributes for the responsibilities that running the Brandcenter requires. His creative bonafides has garnered the respect of the creatives involved in the program, and his business savvy has done the same with the more management-minded. He assembled a first-class board of directors, showed himself to be a deft fundraiser, displayed instincts and vision in building and evolving the academic curriculum, grew the professor pool, developed a talented staff and navigated the political trappings of academia.
His devotion to the program has been plain in these efforts and others, including even a $1 million donation to the school he made with his wife, Barbara, in 2008.
“He has had to wear so many hats, but he’s done it and he’s done it well,” Harris said. “I don’t know how.”
Despite Boyko’s many administrative obligations, Ashley Sommardahl, director of student affairs and industry outreach for the Brandcenter, said that her boss has always made time for the hands-on teaching work that the program represents at its core.
“What is most impressive about Rick is his sincere dedication to mentoring students and growing the next generation of leaders for our industry,” Sommardahl said. “Through teaching classes, group meetings with students and one-on-one critiques, I’ve seen how much the students learn from him. No matter how busy he is with the day-to-day management of the school, he always makes himself available to review student work, answer questions and share his experience and advice.”
Boyko said the reason he’s made a point of remaining engaged with the students is simple. It’s the central impetus for his switch from industry to academics. And he and the Brandcenter have served those students well. Hughes said that more than 95 percent of Brandcenter alumni are working in the industry within a year of graduation.
“The most rewarding part has been dealing with the students and seeing them go on to become established and do great things,” Boyko said.
A particular area of pride for Boyko is the Brandcenter’s open-minded attention to the changes that the advertising industry has faced. The Brandcenter’s curriculum was updated six times during an eight-year stretch, changing to create new graduate tracks that more closely reflected the ways that graduates would be expected to work in the professional world.
The Brandcenter now features five degree tracks – three more than when Boyko arrived – including art direction, copywriting, communications strategy, creative brand management and creative technology. The tracks demonstrate Boyko’s determination to ensure that students are always preparing in the most relevant fashion possible. Creative Brand Management, for instance, is a unique track in higher education designed to combine business strategy and creative thinking and to prepare graduates to work on either the agency or client side. All tracks emphasize the importance and potential of the dramatic technological advances that have altered communications in recent years.
And students from all of the tracks are brought together in classes and on projects so that they can work in the type of multi-discipline teams that mirror ad world practices. Among the concrete ways this insistence has paid off was in the victory in January of a team of Brandcenter students, representing four different tracks, in the prestigious Innovation Challenge, an international competition pitting graduate school student teams against each other to find creative technology solutions for businesses. Boyko said the extent of Brandcenter’s wholehearted, headlong embrace of interdisciplinary study is unique.
“That’s what makes us different from any other school in the country and probably in the world,” Boyko said.
Boyko credits the Brandcenter faculty for being vigilant about remaining current with industry trends and technological innovations. It helps that Boyko has overseen the development of a faculty team that remains deeply engaged in the professional world, always in touch with where the industry is headed.
Following his retirement, Boyko plans to develop a creative leadership training program for marketers, though he won’t report to an office every day. He’s eager to slow down after decades of racing. He also will maintain ties with the Brandcenter.
Boyko said the Brandcenter will grow in importance in coming years. The largest challenge the advertising world now faces, he believes, is attracting the talented creative minds that have long found the field appealing. He said the new fields that have been born out of the technological revolution now give those creatives more career options and advertising more competition.
Even in retirement, though, Boyko will remain a devotee of the advertising world.
“I’ve always found it exciting,” Boyko said.