30 Under 30: Dave Wilkin

David Brown August 29, 2012

The future of Canada’s marketing industry will be shaped by its youngest talent—the super-worldly, plugged-in, brilliant and creative youth who are already making a name for themselves. Marketing put out the call to the industry to find the top 30 standouts under the age of 30 who have already made their mark on the industry.

From PR to advertising to media and beyond, our 30 Under 30 showcases the smartest, bravest and most creative ones to watch in the business.

Dave Wilkin, 24

Founder, Redwood Strategic

Two years ago, Dave Wilkin signed his first deal for $4,000 after riding his bike from one prospective client to the next, with his pitch in a backpack slung across his shoulders.

Today, Wilkin, founder and CEO of Redwood Strategic, has received a Lieutenant Governor’s Award, been named a national Millennium Excellence Award laureate, and made Profit Magazine’s list of the top 30 entrepreneur’s under 30. He runs a 17-employee agency ringing up $2 million in revenue for clients like Microsoft, Loblaw, Samsung and Virgin Mobile, which clearly appreciate his ability to connect them with community leaders who become “advocates” for their brands.

Next stop: an office in New York City.

But this wasn’t what people expected of Wilkin. Growing up in Lively Ontario, a small town outside Sudbury, people thought that if he ever left town he’d end up a doctor.

His parents were always involved and helping out in the community: running the outdoor rink, joining the school board, working the town carnival, whatever needed done they did. “They identified problems and went out and solved them,” he says. In high school, Wilkin started non-profits to help challenged youth. “I was also a big nerd and I loved science. All of my teachers were like, ‘Dave you should become a doctor.’” His marks were good enough to earn him scholarships to study science at the University of Waterloo. But his experience working with young people helped also earn a job with the federal government as a spokesperson on youth issues. And instead of a science co-op he took a work term in PR and marketing with P&G. There he sold a VP on a recruiting program based on a social media plan that “set roots really deep into campuses.”

Wilkin uses the roots metaphor often to describe effective marketing – marketers are most successful when they can dig roots deep into a community, he says.

People trust other people talking about a product or experience more than an ad from a marketer telling them about the same product or experience. “Advocates are leading the conversation within communities that people want to be part of,” he says. Marketers have long coveted those advocates, the difference is Redwood has used social media to develop a network of 40,000 advocates and connect those advocates with its clients.

North Strategic founder Mia Pearson, who told Wilkin two years ago that rather than work for her he needed to start his own business and who now shares office space with his company, says Wilkin has developed a “completely new model to help brands integrate authentically into student life.”

The deep roots metaphor was also the inspiration for Wilkin’s company name. It’s deep roots that allow Redwood trees to reach such enormous heights. Don’t be surprised if Dave Wilkin towers among the giants of Canadian marketing in the years ahead.

You can read the full 30 Under 30 list in the Sept. 10 issue of Marketing magazine.


Photo: Mike Ford