May 24, 2010
On May 22, I had the honor of addressing the VCU Brandcenter Class of 2010 in Richmond, Virginia. Following are my remarks.
Professor Boyko, distinguished members of the faculty, parents, guests, friends, and graduates of the VCU Brandcenter Class of 2010. Good afternoon. I am honored to be with you today at your commencement.
The first thought I want to share with you is congratulations to each one of you; you have been through one of the most innovative programs in higher education. It’s amazing — a program only about fifteen years old, and it has already had a significant impact on our communications industry, and on higher education. In preparing my remarks to share with you, I enjoyed looking through your work, and from what I see, you are ready to go out into our industry and make a big difference.
What I love most about your school is its mission: To Radically Transform The Business Of Advertising And Branding By Training The Next Generation Of Leaders To Make Business Smarter, Less Conventional, And More Responsible. Smarter, less conventional, responsible — this is the right mission for you and frankly for all of business. I cannot remember who my commencement speaker was when I graduated from Franklin & Marshall and Penn State. That’s sad! I would like you to remember my remarks to you — one year from now, ten years from now. So, I’m going to make it easy. I’m going to give you three numbers to keep in your mind when you think of this speech: one trillion, one, and ninety-three.
One trillion. Do you know what that represents? One trillion dollars. This is the estimate of the size of the market you are entering. One trillion dollars a year are spent on marketing and advertising. Imagine that. And now imagine the incredible power of this, if it is directed and spent the right way. Imagine if all of that money was spent on brands who believed in and acted on your school’s mission.
I’m going to the Cannes International Advertising Festival this year to urge the industry to spend this money in a different way. I will be hosting a dialogue on June 25 called “The Burning Question.” You can follow it on line, and the buzz has already begun. I am trying to bring your school’s mission to life.
As you now leave VCU, and you enter jobs, or look for that perfect job, or begin your own venture, I’d like you to help spend that one trillion dollars a different way — a way that is aligned with your school’s mission.
The number one. One is for each one of you individuals. You came into the school two years ago with a unique story. The story continued to develop and unfold over the past two years. You learned about advertising. You learned about collaboration. You learned more about social media. You learned about leadership. You learned about impact. You might have fallen in love; I did in my graduate program.
Well, I’d like to ask each one of you, on this your graduation day, to synthesize all this learning and to think about how you will help change brands and our industry for the better. Make a commitment to yourself today to not forget your school’s mission and to stay committed to it. Movements and revolutions begin with one person, and each one of you can be a very positive force in shaping our industry for the better.
This is very important — that each one of you acts on this. Our industry is not in good shape. The Pew Research Center has data that shows that people think business leaders are at the very low end of the scale in adding value to society. We are behind lawyers. And, I have nothing against lawyers; my father was a lawyer, and I have a brother who is a lawyer — and one who is a federal judge. Think about what has happened in the business climate since you entered the Brandcenter: AIG, Lehman Brothers, Toyota, Goldman Sachs, BP.
This leads me to my final number: ninety-three. This is perhaps an obvious one, as there are ninety-three of you in this room graduating. Now, I have already talked about the impact of each one of you making a commitment to change the industry in some way for the better. Now imagine the power in this room if all ninety-three of you did that. Imagine if here in this room, there are ninety-three Lee Clows. Or ninety-three Oprah Winfreys. Ninety-three Rick Boykos. Ninety-three Bob Greenbergs. Ninety-three Carol Williamses. Ninety-three Mike Hugheses. Ninety-three Shelly Lazaruses. You get the idea. The power is in the movement and the power is in the numbers.
So, my message to you is to keep these numbers in your head. Resolve to put those one trillion dollars to better use. Resolve to make this industry better because you as an individual make a commitment that you act upon. And, stay connected with your ninety-three classmates about your journey, and inspire them to make a difference. With ninety-three of you, you certainly have the critical mass to do that.
To your great faculty in this room, they will continue to support you. They’ve already helped you make a difference. You owe them a big thanks, and I guarantee they will support you as you move out of here to make a larger difference to fulfill your school’s mission.
To your loved ones in the room, your friends and family, be proud of your graduates. They are entering a field of great possibilities for good. I have seen it over and over in my career. I spent 25 years at Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest advertiser, and I saw what could happen if a team got electrified behind a mission, through a brand, to make a positive difference. It results in great business, great impact, and an organization you can be proud to be a part of.
Thank you again for this opportunity. Enjoy this day. And, remember — one trillion, one, ninety-three.