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How Focusing on Mission and Teamwork Led to an Award-Winning Rebrand

July 12, 2021

By Caroline Brandt

Thousands of data points,
Numerous interviews,
Piles of transcripts,
Ten focus groups,
Five strategically chosen locations,
One, 60-page brand report worthy of platinum-level honors.

For Aptive Resources’ Ashley Gork and Jessica Pellegrini, the “value of teamwork” is what pushed them forward to create a 60-page brand analysis report for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Vet Centers that received a platinum award from Hermes Creative Awards, an international competition recognizing the industry’s best creative professionals. Aptive, a Veteran- and woman-owned small business with about 200 employees and based in Alexandria, Virginia, received the prestigious honor among Fortune 500 companies, media conglomerates and other notable corporations.

VA operates more than 300 Vet Centers and more than 80 mobile Vet Centers across the country. Vet Centers provide individual, group, marriage, and family counseling, and referrals to other VA and community resources for eligible Veterans, active-duty service members, members of the National Guard and Reserve, and their families. Services are provided by 2,000 specially trained behavioral health providers, social workers, and support staff—many of whom are Veterans themselves—in community-based settings, away from VA campuses.

Vet Centers are characterized by warm, art-filled spaces designed to put visitors at ease as they and their loved ones confront diagnoses such as posttraumatic stress disorder and substance use disorder; issues such as psychological injury; and situations such as housing instability and personal and family crises. Unlike most VA programs, Vet Centers serve active-duty service members, those with dishonorable discharges and those without a service-connected disability. Mobile Vet Centers increase access to care for rural Veterans and deploy to disaster areas to connect Veterans and their families with mental health and other care.

Vet Centers hired Aptive to assist with a rebranding effort, to showcase its value to service members, Veterans and their families. By deploying a unified brand and a research-based brand implementation strategy, Vet Centers can broaden awareness, reach untapped markets, and provide even more stakeholders with the vital services they need to thrive in life during and after combat.

“Ashley and I are both perfectionists in everything we do, and I truly think the mission of this program [Vet Centers] and the work we were trying to accomplish is part of what kept us pushing through the long days and seemingly ever-increasing word count,” Pellegrini said.

The brand report, which took Gork and Pellegrini a couple of months to write, was part of a year-long endeavor, from flying across the country to conduct focus groups and interviews, to aggregating data into endless Excel spreadsheets, all to ensure the new Vet Center brand would be reflective of the experiences, perceptions and attitudes of each of its many stakeholder groups.

“One of the most rewarding parts for me during this process was seeing it all come together,” Pellegrini said. “During the focus groups, we were able to talk directly to Vet Center clients who shared stories about how Vet Centers have helped them. And we heard from team members who worked long hours and would do anything in their power to make sure these Veterans felt like Vet Centers were a safe, friendly and welcoming place for them to visit. If our research and all the work we were putting into this report would ultimately lead to a logo, slogan and suite of outreach products that would help even more Veterans experience all that a Vet Center can offer, then for me—and I’m sure Ashley feels the same way—the work was all worth it.”

While the stakes were high and the successful collaboration would ultimately benefit millions of Veterans, active-duty service members, members of the National Guard and Reserve and their families nationwide, Gork and Pellegrini owe the success of the campaign to their teamwork together and with their Vet Centers clients.

“As a two-person team, Jess and I were both involved in every single aspect of the data collection, analysis and reporting process,” Gork said. “We were there together on the early flights from Kalispell to San Diego and during the weeks when our lives were drowning in Post-It notes and piles of focus group transcripts. We consistently built on one another’s ideas and pushed each other to develop the best product possible.”

Pellegrini echoed that sentiment.

“Even though there were times when the sheer volume of data and coding work to be done was overwhelming, our ability to see the report from two perspectives—Ashley with a leader’s eye for strategy and I with an eye for visual representation of the information—allowed us to approach this project in a way that made every single element of the report shine. We both truly believe that we could not have asked for a better companion in this effort.” 

While the award was certainly a high point for both Gork and Pellegrini’s career, this dynamic duo isn’t done yet. 

“This award was unexpected, but unbelievably gratifying,” Gork said. “And it certainly made all of those long nights and frustrating moments worth it. Jess and I plan to celebrate over a bottle of champagne soon and I am confident that we will use a good portion of that time brainstorming future opportunities for creative collaboration. We do not intend to be one-trick ponies.” 

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