Next Media Stars: Chris Swanson » Media in Canada

Next Media Stars: Chris Swanson

Find out how this MEC strategist utilized his culinary skills to his advertising advantage, earning him a strategy Next Media Stars nomination.

Every year, strategy magazine reaches out to the media community to round up the best and brightest young media minds for its Next Media Stars feature. This week, chef-turned-media buyer/planner Chris Swanson shows industry peers that he understands just what ingredients are needed to produce a successful advertising feast.

Claim to fame

MEC media buyer/planner Chris Swanson has developed quite the flair for concocting successful recipes for Cara restaurant brands, and it’s not because he used to be a chef. After only three years in the industry, he’s developed a knack for whipping up strategic partnerships that result in effective custom executions.

A holiday season promo for Cara’s gift card is a recent example. Swanson arranged a contra deal that saw 130 $75 Cara ‘Bon Appétit’ gift cards for Swiss Chalet, Milestones, Montana’s, Kelsey’s and Harvey’s given away through The Weather Network. Morning show personalities from the channel’s national and GTA broadcasts posed questions pertaining to the restaurants and viewers were driven to The Weather Network’s Facebook page to post answers. If they heard their name during a subsequent morning broadcast, they were directed back to Facebook to claim a gift card prize.

The effort was promoted online through Twitter, Facebook ads, YouTube videos and on-air.

‘We assumed that around Christmastime people are checking the weather more because they have more personal plans,’ says Swanson. ‘They have some avid fans on The Weather Network that are pretty active [digitally], so we assumed it would work out.’

The gambit paid off. Not counting TV mentions, the effort created over 110 million impressions for the ‘Bon Appétit’ gift card and Cara brands, and there was a total of 2,091 fan ‘likes,’ 4,801 comments and 3,248 posts.

When Swanson is faced with clients who aren’t initially sold on trying something new, he isn’t a chicken about persevering, evident in a deal he arranged between Swiss Chalet and the sport of curling during the lead-up to the Vancouver Olympics. Initially Swiss Chalet was wary of the idea – curling is typically watched by Canadians over 40 while the target for Swiss Chalet was 25 to 54 – but Swanson and his team convinced them it would work, citing Olympic hype as a catalyst for success.

‘NBC said after the 2006 Olympics, curling was the second-favourite sport to watch,’ says Swanson. ‘I assumed that because Canada tends to be very good at curling, and we had a great chance to take home a gold medal, it would likely blow up.’

The partnership saw Swiss Chalet establish a meaty presence through a national sponsorship of the Grand Slam of Curling, which included the ‘Double Takeout Contest’ (named for a curling term).

Developed in collaboration with Toronto-based iSport Media and Management, it encouraged rotisserie chicken-loving curling enthusiasts to go online every time they saw a double takeout on TV and enter for the chance to win a Swiss Chalet gift card. Videos and billboards featuring some of the curlers on the tour, including Olympic gold medalist Marc Kennedy, encouraged viewers to enter. Online, print and radio ads, as well as in-program, on-venue and grassroots sponsorship promos were also a part of the package.

The partnership culminated with the Grand Slam of Curling approaching Swiss Chalet at the 11th hour to take over title sponsorship of one of its events, now known as the Swiss Chalet National.

TV audiences exceeded estimates that season by 25% with most of the increases falling in Swiss Chalet’s adults 25-to-54 demo. It received 3,732 unique contest entries, with an overall total of 16,902, and of the unique entries, 50% opted in for future contact. The brand is currently negotiating to take the sponsorship into its third year next winter.

Swanson’s story

Swanson, 30, is originally from Cobourg, ON., but spent most of his life in the GTA. He graduated from Brock University, then became a chef, working at Oak Heights Estate Winery under chef Peter Gosling. Citing a decline in passion for the culinary arts, he went back to school to take advertising and media sales at Humber College. From Humber, it was on to MEC.

What’s something you’re particularly proud of?

‘Changing the media habits of people watching curling. Before, there was never a reason to go online.’