ORNL Credit Union's Creative Competition

Alex Oliver overcomes 51 competitors to become official spokesperson for Young and Free Tennessee

It's 5:45 on Tuesday, April 6 and Alex Oliver and his family have just arrived at the Aubrey's restaurant in Powell. The 21-year-old Knoxvillian is greeted by a hostess who leads him towards the back of the restaurant—where he discovers over 20 friends, ORNL Federal Credit Union staffers, and media personnel have been patiently awaiting his arrival. Before Alex knows what's going on, the crowd yells, "You got the job!" The onlookers applaud and wave orange and white pom-poms while Alex stands flabbergasted and speechless.

The job Oliver so suddenly landed is official spokesperson for the Young and Free Tennessee campaign for ORNL Federal Credit Union. Young and Free is the brainchild of Canada-based Currency Marketing, and is designed to enlighten 18-to-25-year-olds about credit unions.

"We launched Young and Free Alberta in 2007," says Tim McAlpine of Currency. "We were involved in social media and credit unions. We started with Servus Credit Union in Alberta. It worked really well and caught the attention of other credit unions. We decided to do Young and Free in every state and every province."

Only one credit union in each state or province can be represented, and ORNL is the Tennessee affiliate and the fifth state to come on.

The Young and Free campaign starts with a creative competition to find the spokesperson. "The competition kicks it off with a bang and builds buzz about the program," McAlpine says. Applicants must submit videos and blogs to enter the competition. Twenty-seven applicants were the most the program had ever seen; Young and Free Tennessee received 51. "The fact that University of Tennessee was so close was huge," McAlpine says. "There are so many young people training in journalism, video, and marketing."

The month-long Young and Free Tennessee campaign drew strong competitors, and many applicants went all-out on their videos. One applicant said she shot in 64 locations in downtown Knoxville. "We were blown away," says Jessica Wade, marketing director for ORNL Federal Credit Union.

On Friday, March 12, all of the applicants assembled at Buffalo Wild Wings on Cumberland Avenue to find out who the three finalists would be. The winners: Amanda Wampler, Mario Urbina, and Alex Oliver.

Each contestant had a unique approach to the competition. Wampler, who works at Bechtel Jacobs, wanted to get out and meet people as well as utilize social networking. "It's amazing to me how many people are involved in social networking," Wampler says. Urbina, a bilingual nursing student at Pellissippi State Community College, planned on organizing events to "promote credit unions over banks." And Oliver, who says "video is my passion" and who operates his own video company JAO Productions, planned to use video and social networking to promote the credit union.

Wampler, Oliver, and Urbina set out on their campaigns for the spokesperson spot by bombarding Facebook and Twitter with requests for votes and by producing a lot of video content. "All three candidates were great," Wade says. "It was a very hard decision, but it comes down to one." And the one it came down to was Alex Oliver.

He's so talented," Wade says. "His video skills are extraordinary. He is well-spoken, driven, and motivated. We're honored to work with him." After regaining his composure from the surprise announcement, Oliver said he was "thrilled beyond belief."

ORNL Federal Credit Union's President & CEO, John McKittrick, was at the restaurant to officially offer Oliver the position. The job comes with a lot of perks (which also helped draw in the applicants): Besides a modest salary, Oliver will receive an iPhone, a MacBook Pro, and a Nissan Cube with a funky lime green paint job. "I'm going to be parking it in the most obvious places... I hope it doesn't get towed," Oliver says of the new ride.

The good news comes at an unusual time for Oliver, who arrived at the restaurant wearing a back brace that covered most of his torso. Oliver had been in Breckinridge, Colo. snowboarding and "filming for his next independent project."

"I proved to myself why I film and don't ride," Oliver says. He says he took a jump on his snowboard, got turned around in the air, and landed flat on his back. "The doctor said I was fortunate." An ORNL staffer said that, at first, doctors thought he might not walk again, but he's now expected to make a full recovery.

Despite his injury Oliver says its "not going to limit me with Young and Free Tennessee." He says he's looking forward to "re-experiencing our area, visiting each branch and finding what's unique to do in each area." Oliver says he will be incorporating Facebook and Twitter into his job and working on some cross-promotion. "The most exciting thing is the Dogwood Arts Festival. I really want to get that out there," Oliver says. "I will probably post some videos and blog for that."

"Alex is going to run his own show," says McAlpine. "It's up to him for the year to study finance, not just videos. Funny vs. Money." But Oliver isn't intimidated by the new job.

"I'm super pumped for one heck of a year," he says. "There's not going to be a down moment."