Next Media Stars: Walton and Whiffen’s Young Lions nod

The pair from Media Experts went to Cannes thanks to a community-building plan for the YMCA.

The mandate handed down to participants at this year’s Globe and Mail Young Lions competition was to establish the YMCA’s status as a community-building, relevant social good organization and raise awareness of its advocacy efforts and programs, as well as its authority in the youth health and wellness sector. The victory went to media planner Valerie Whiffen and senior broadcast negotiator Chris Walton from Media Experts, who went on to compete against teams from around the world in Cannes.

Walton and Whiffen chose to focus on face-to-face interaction, getting people to step away from the computer and communicate – and create communities – in person.

Their first idea was to distribute 10,000 complimentary YMCA visit passes, with which people could see a new aspect of their community and the scope of the YMCA’s programs. The hook was that after people visited they had to forward the pass on to a stranger, as well as enter their details on a website, which would be added to the YMCA database.

“The idea is that consumers would be able to pass the card on to the next person and we would be able to track the pass backs, like an old chain letter,” says Whiffen. “It gets people who live in the same community together and gets the YMCA back to the grassroots level that it was founded on. It would also give us information on where the YMCA’s core demographic is located.”

A few apps were also built into the plan, including one called Activate that uses GPS to identify the nearest volunteering opportunities in the city. The app also promotes healthy living, giving points to users every time they visit the gym that count towards discounts or special offers.

“The relevance of the YMCA is not just about the community aspect, but also about the services they provide,” says Whiffen. “Everything we did needed to link people to other people, to ensure there is a conversation happening – that they are talking about the YMCA as well as actually going to the locations. We brought the human aspect into every element.”

The Media Experts team also found a cost-effective way to leverage the Olympics in their presentation, proposing an app that allows users to vote for their favourite athletes during the Games and then find the nearest YMCA to start training.

“I think we were really able to identify the key emerging trends and applications. We also didn’t want to be everything to everyone – we didn’t try to do all media.” says Whiffen, who started with Media Experts two years ago, working primarily on the WestJet and Workopolis accounts, after earning a Bachelor of Design from York University.

Walton, who joined Media Experts last year, works with WestJet, Virgin Mobile and BMW. He studied advertising at St. Clair College, and worked at Mindshare for four years prior to his current role.