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Holly Hessler

By Megan Nash

Ever felt like the universe was nudging you towards your true calling? Meet Holly Hessler, professor and newly appointed chair of Copywriting at the VCU Brandcenter, who once thought a creative career was out of reach until she discovered the world of advertising. At a young age, Holly found a way to blend her creative talents with business strategy and has come full circle enjoying the best of both worlds: inspiring students and running her own consulting business, proving that you can follow your passion and make a living from it.

Where can we find you on the VCU map?

At the Brandcenter.

Can you share a bit about your educational journey? Where did you go to school and what was your major?

I attended Virginia Tech for undergrad and the VCU Brandcenter for grad school. Full circle. 😊

What inspired you to pursue a career in your field, and how has your journey evolved over the years?

Creative advertising is a world full of artful challenges and creative thinking. I love creative problem-solving for business. I love amplifying the parts of culture that pique my curiosity. I love submersing myself in art, literature and music. I love hearing different points of view from all different types of people. I love telling stories.

From a young age, I dreamt of being a creative person, but the reality of that life seemed disconnected from the responsibility of making money to feed myself. I could only imagine a cliché: the struggling writer, fingers bleeding from novel rewrites in a grim closet somewhere in NYC. After discovering I couldn’t afford the closet, I resigned myself to trudge through a soulless 9-5 and chase my creative pursuits “in my own time.”

I didn’t learn that creative careers–ones that use business strategy and insight to further artistic, creative and communication goals of brands–were an option until I was in my late 20s. Once I saw that I could express myself as a creative person and afford dinner, I was intrigued.

When I learned success in this field would open doors to create alongside some of the very best directors, artists, musicians, actors, visionaries and entrepreneurs to ever do it, I was all in. I spent the next 15 years voraciously attacking the industry, getting my hands into every project I could, and learning from some of the best mentors and creative people in the business.

As fate would have it, the pandemic brought me back to Richmond and consequently realigned me with the VCU Brandcenter. Now I have the best of both worlds: I work remotely through my small consulting business and teach the next generation of creative business problem solvers how much fun they too can have at work.

Can you share a memorable experience from your teaching career that had a significant impact on your approach to education?

Around the end of the fourth and final semester of our program, there is a moment where the significance of the work our students do strikes them. They see the importance of creating something that will live in the world and hopefully influence culture. Suddenly their work goes from something “fake” or “pretend” to something that has the potential to influence the lives of others. And they’re humbled by it. That’s a remarkable thing to witness and something I look forward to every year.

If you had to create a playlist of songs that represent your academic journey, what would be your ‘Top 3?’

Since I’m in the middle of my academic journey, I’ll just give you the first three songs on my current playlist:

  1. Murder on the Dancefloor – Sophie Ellis-Bextor
  2. Surround Sound – JID, 21 Savage, Baby Tate
  3. La De Da – Link Wray

What’s the most unexpected or unconventional place where you’ve found inspiration for your academic work?

The best thing about creative advertising is that it’s all unexpected. From the organization of items on a friend’s pantry shelf to a single note of a beloved song, you never know when or where creative inspiration will spark. That’s why I encourage my students to live as much as they work. When you only work, work becomes your only inspiration. We get stuck creatively when we’re stuck as people. We all need to get out and do and do and do again.

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