Chris Bolivar

Top 40 Under 40 2010

Photography Constantine Tanasiuk

Age: 28

Job Title: Owner and managing director, McRobbie Optamedia Inc.

Why He’s A Top 40: He has merged marketing and political science savvy to create one of the largest, fastest-growing and youthful advertising agencies in Edmonton.

Key To His Success: Applying the discipline of marathon sports to business: “You’ve got to run 42 k and that’s that. It’s exactly like business. There are no shortcuts in building a business.”

If you’re wondering who has been nagging you about washing your hands all the time, it’s not your mom. It’s Chris Bolivar, owner and managing director of McRobbie Optamedia.

The marketing wunderkind has helped spread Alberta Health and Wellness’s message that washing your hands prevents the spread of disease. Reaching millions of Albertans through thousands of non-traditional ads – signs on doors, walls, floors, in washrooms – the ongoing campaign will save untold millions in lost of productivity and health-care costs.

Bolivar started Optamedia as a one-man shop in 2003 during his last year at the University of Alberta studying political science. It’s a subject he says has more relevance to modern marketing than the study of marketing, because politics is about relationships. “If you market to people, you’ll turn them off,” he says. He believes in honest, two-way communication between the producer and consumer.

Since a 2009 merger between Optamedia and McRobbie Design Group, business has exceeded the sum of what either company could have done alone, says Bolivar. In the last year, the company has increased revenue by 40 per cent and assets by 100 per cent. McRobbie Optamedia was named by Alberta Venture as the sixth fastest-growing company in Alberta. It serves clients including Syncrude, Dow Canada, Atco and the Government of Alberta, along with providing free marketing services to the Alberta Emerald Foundation, Edmonton’s Junior Chamber International and other non-profit groups.

Bolivar, who describes his role as “communications architect,” has spread his ideas around the world, with stints on the boards of the Advertising Club of Edmonton and the Graphic Design Society of Canada. He has amassed 45 international advertising and marketing awards since he started.

He’s also one of several Top 40s who’s a triathlete or marathon runner. Coincidence? Something to think about the next time you come across one of his clean hand ads in a public washroom.

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