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Adios, Pot Leaf? VCU Prepares Brand Makeover

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It might be a pot leaf. Or the tree of knowledge. Or a reference to the layout of the Fan. Whatever that sprouting, seven-legged symbol is supposed to be, the official seal of Virginia Commonwealth University is in the cross hairs.

Intended to convey "the prestige and distinction of VCU," according to the university's graphic identity guidelines, the seal is difficult to find. Its use is prohibited on anything except for official records, such as diplomas. Elsewhere you'll usually see the late-'90s "VCU" emblem in a bold type.

It's all getting a once-over. The university is working on a new marketing campaign with local public relations and marketing firm CRT/tanaka and Boston-based Fuseideas. A VCU spokeswoman says a new seal and updated logo will be unveiled by the fall, and a marketing campaign will roll out during the new academic year.

A recent endeavor seems to have made a mark; 2011's Our Time. Right Now campaign is forever linked to the school's Final Four run.

"I thought they did a really good job of capitalizing on the Final Four," says Jon Newman, chief executive of local public relations and social media agency the Hodges Partnership. "That became sort of a rallying cry, not only from a marketing standpoint, but from a student-body standpoint."

By now the effect of that campaign probably has worn off, Newman says, and the bar will be raised for the new campaign because of VCU's recent success.

"It's not the same university it was 10 years ago, or even five," says Newman, who suggests that the campaign should focus on the school's growth, excellence in sports and arts, appearance, feel and diversity.

Some people may celebrate the pot-leaf image's demise. The seal was created by marketing and design firm Schechter and Luth Inc. after VCU was formed from the merger of Richmond Professional Institute and the Medical College of Virginia in 1968.

The symbol provoked controversy when it was adopted, according to Ray Bonis, archives coordinator of special collections at VCU Libraries. Critics thought the seal was too abstract, and that it should have been designed by the school's art students instead of a firm from New York.

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