VCU Brandcenter Hopes To Take Richmond Out of the Closet with #OutRVA
It’s not easy to sell RVA as a destination for LGBTQ tourists, but a group of VCU Brandcenter students have taken up the challenge and their new campaign, OutRVA, needs your help.
“It’s something we all believed in, and something we thought would be fun to work on,” said Trey Keeler, one of the group of grad students who have volunteered their time to get this new tourism campaign together. Yes, they are volunteers; the project isn’t even a school assignment. But they’re excited to throw the weight of the famed marketing program at VCU behind the initiative.
The project started last September. The Brandcenter was approached by members of the Richmond Region Tourism office to see if they were willing to take on the re-branding of its existing LGBT tourism marketing as a project. The cadre of grad students began researching the city’s LGBTQ community, and set out to find a way to unite them around one idea. OutRVA was born from this research.
OutRVA hopes to bring Richmond out of the closet – “Before we can tell people about how great Richmond is, Richmond needs to be honest with itself and come out as a LGBT community,” said Keeler. Interviews with members of the community, focus groups, online research, all these tools were used to find out the best way to present RVA and its impressive arts, culture, and history to the rest of the world.
Liam Schaefer, another member of the OutRVA team and a transplant from NYC, said he experienced this first hand when he moved to Richmond and asked “where all the gay people are.”
“We were surprised to find a gay community that is woven into all parts of Richmond,” said Schaefer. “Just because there may not be a gayborhood here, there might not be a community, but our research showed that was not the case at all.”
Many cities have LGBTQ marketing campaigns, but Keeler said they wanted to create something different for RVA. Where Philly or San Francisco might use images of drag queens and rainbow flags, OutRVA wants to highlight the food, art and culture.
“Our campaign comes off a lot from the street art and guerrilla movement,” said Keeler
So what does it mean to be “out?” According to Keeler its about more than just being openly LGBTQ. “Out can be about things focused on the LGBT parts of Richmond, but it can also be about just coming out and being proud about different aspects of Richmond – Dining, things to do, the arts, stuff like that.”
Keeler, Scheafer and their Brandcenter coworkers have started the project with a number of in-house produced items – first are the “Out” stickers many people have seen around town. They’ve also created an advertisement video for the campaign:
The next step is for the community to participate in the campaign – using the hashtag #OutRVA will add individual’s content to the OutRVA website and help the community mold itself for the outside world.
“It’s an opportunity for the community to run with it and make it what the community wants it to be,” said Keeler. “Whatever people post – art, a great meal, pictures of themselves out on the town, that will create a beautiful mosaic.”
There’s also a tab on the campaign’s website to submit your own coming out story.
After a few months, the campaign hopes to have a wealth of content to share with a broader audience. “We want to build this up in Richmond first, and then, down the road, once Richmond has come out and really rallied around it’s own community, we think we can send it out and show other cities what Richmond has to offer,” said Keeler. “The success of this project really depends on Richmond reaching out and telling the story.”
Katherine O’Donnell is the Richmond Tourism office rep working with the Brandcenter on the LGBT tourism campaign. She said her office were excited to get the chance to work with the VCU mainstay, and had been pleased with the project so far. “We want LGBT travelers to think of Richmond as welcoming and inviting, interesting and engaging, culturally vibrant and a foodie destination.”
O’Donnell explained why Richmond purses the LGBTQ tourist in the first place. “To be known as LGBT friendly supports our messaging about being a welcoming place for visitors. It fits perfectly with our new creative campaign which aims to build interest in and increase visitation to the Richmond Region by changing perceptions of what to expect from a visit to the area.”
While the OutRVA campaign is not quite the final choice for the Richmond Region Tourism LGBT campaign, she’s excited to see the progress made by the group of students so far. “The grassroots nature–led by the students–makes it even more interesting,” said O’Donnell. “Additionally, the OutRVA designation on local businesses will aid LGBT travelers in navigating the Richmond Region when they are here.”
As the members of the OutRVA team are all students, it’s important that they learn from this experience, and with only a few weeks under their belt, Keeler said the group has already learned lots. “Our team is both straight and gay, (it’s made up) of people who live in Richmond and grew up here and those who’ve only been here a year and half – both the gay community and the city itself, it’s brought something unique to the table.”
So hop on your Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and even the OutRVA website and help the world see RVA as a place for LGBTQ travelers.
And for those of you looking for the “Out” stickers, head on over to the sticker section of OutRVA for details.
Mayor Stoney urges support for RVA as city gets nominated as top destination for British LGBT travelers
“Richmond, VA, is truly for all lovers… now is the time to let the world know how welcoming Richmond is.”February 22, 2017
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