Converge 2019 Speaker Spotlight: Q&A with Carol Keese from UVA

Converge 2019 Speaker Spotlight: Q&A with Carol Keese from UVA

An interview with Carol Keese, Associate Vice President of Marketing at the University of Virginia.


Carol is a proven brand, marketing and communications strategist with two decades of experience working with the nation’s leading academic and healthcare organizations. She has strong experience in brand development, brand research and positioning in premier, complex, matrix organizations as well as experience in reputation and message strategy for high-visibility and high-stakes situations and audiences.

Converge Consulting (CC): What are some key takeaways Converge 2019 attendees will get from your CMO Track session on institutional crisis?

Carol Keese (CK): We learn more about brand resilience in and after crises than we do under normal operating conditions. In fact, there is no time at which the strength of your brand is as important – or as tested – than at moments of crisis.

Organizations very naturally respond to crises with defensive postures. But beyond the necessary work of issue management, crises can present important opportunities to reinforce your brand equity, leverage the strength of existing partnerships and programs you have in the market and to make important investments in the development of future work.

Consider crises as teachable moments to help your university leadership better understand:

  • The need to have an active voice in how your brand is perceived
  • The importance of measurement over time (not just at the moment of impact)
  • The role of marketing investment as a critical counterbalance to the news cycles that can hit any organization – in higher education or out of it.


(CC): How did your history in marketing set you up for success at UVA?

(CK): I have had the privilege of working exclusively with brands that are old – from 150 years to over 200. These included Johns Hopkins, Children’s National and the University of Virginia. The challenge and beauty of marketing legacy brands is to uncover what is timeless, authentic and compelling inside of an “old story”. These stories – and these organizations – are still with us because they capture something important and essential.

As a brand professional, re-telling a story in a way that captures its relevance today, and into the future, is really interesting. That prepared me well to help steward brand and marketing work for an iconic brand whose origin story is quite literally tied to the origin story of our country.

(CC): What was it like to be a part of the rebrand in 2015 and winning AMA Marketing Team of the Year?

(CK): First, it was incredibly humbling to be part of a team who quite literally came from nothing (no budget, no staff, no precedent, no history…) to a place where we earned that award in less than four years. I think two things were key to that – 1) when you don’t know that something is impossible, you have the potential to create “something new under the sun” 2) when you work with people who are passionate about doing good work that leads and serves the organization and the world, no barrier is very big. I believe the work for which we won that award represents transformative thinking in the way brand can be managed, adopted and shared across institutions inside and out of higher education.

In terms of the brand work done in 2015, we didn’t consider it a rebrand but rather the development of a core brand platform (and a visual language) that would help the organization do a better job of telling its story at a time – approaching our bicentennial and at the outset of a major capital campaign – during which that would be critical. As it happened, we had the opportunity to prove that out during a period where we experienced some extraordinary difficulty events – through which we not only drew on our brand equity but managed to make it stronger and more resilient.

(CC): How does the history of the school shape the brand that you represent today at UVA?

(CK): Jefferson founded UVA as an insurance policy for what was then a very new and pretty shaky fledgling republic. We were essentially a bold experiment for another bold experiment.

And to do this Jefferson incidentally created the core elements of what we consider to be standard in higher education today – placing a library not a church as the heart of a university, placing students and faculty in proximity, putting disciplines next door to each other – all to foster the things we now take for granted: multidisciplinary and cross disciplinary approaches, student-faculty interaction, and self-governance. These things are literally built into the architecture of the University’s Lawn and Academical Village and has influenced the entire model of higher learning for the last two centuries.

We are also the only university ever created specifically to cultivate an informed citizenry and citizen leaders – something as important today as it was in 1819. The challenges we face now – as a society, as a world – are more complex than any one discipline can solve. We need Jefferson’s revolutionary ideas to create new models, as they once did, along these same lines. And we need to ensure that we are serving the greater good by creating the greatest access to education to the brightest students from every possible background, creating educated leaders for a more connected and diverse society.

(CC): Would you identify as a right or left brain thinker?

(CK): I spend most of my time as a left brain thinker but I’m truly happiest when I am able to engage both at the same time. Art museums and good wine are great for this.

(CC): Why are you excited to present at Converge 2019?

(CK): Marketing leaders need more opportunities to meaningfully connect with each other, compare challenges and opportunities, and build a community of peer collaborators. While conferences can be part of that, they should be more than a once-a-year event. Ideally, conferences like Converge should bring people together to help facilitate workshopping and innovation year-round on key issues.

This is particularly needed for marketing leaders, who have few such opportunities to meaningfully connect with peers to compare what’s working and to develop new and innovative approaches to what’s next.

Converge 2019

Carol will be a part of a the CMO Track Session: Crisis? What Crisis? Advice from Your Peers Who Have Been There on Day 2 at Converge 2019 in Atlanta. Register now so you can get the opportunity to engage with Carol and learn more about the amazing things she is doing.

Madeline Dostal
Madeline Dostal
January 22, 2019