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Young Lions Alumni Spotlight with the 2022 Marketing Winners

Ahead of the 2023 Young Lions Competitions in a few weeks’ time, we’re looking back at past competition winners and picking their brains on their Young Lions experience and tips and tricks they can share with this year’s competitors! We spoke to Omar Elmezaini (OE) and Kush Gandhi (KG), both Marketing Managers at PepsiCo, the winners of the 2022 Young Lions Competition in the Marketers Category. 

Tell us a bit about yourselves – who you are, where you work, and what you do (the 30-second elevator pitch!)

KG: I’m Kush Gandhi and work at PepsiCo Canada as a Customer Marketing Manager leading our Foodservice Customer Marketing team. Today, I’m responsible for bringing PepsiCo’s brands & strategies to life across the Foodservice channel. In my career, I’ve been fortunate to have a breadth of experiences like building upon Canadian-led brands like Miss Vickie’s & influencing iconic global brands like Doritos along with experiences across Shopper, Sports & Portfolio Marketing.

OE: My passion is telling compelling stories rooted in insights-based strategic plans. Throughout my career at PepsiCo, I’ve had the pleasure of applying this passion to the most iconic beverage brands including Pepsi, Gatorade, and Bubly. I currently lead the 7UP and Mtn Dew brands across Canada by building consumer-centric communication plans to drive brand equity and long-term growth.

As a multi-year competitor, what was your Young Lions experience like and how did it differ each time?

OE: The Young Lions competition is by far my favourite competition that I’ve participated in because it brings together the thing that any marketer needs to do really well (write compelling briefs!), and couples it with charitable organizations to drive awareness for a great social cause. Every year the competition poses a unique challenge as each charitable organization has its own mission and unique challenges to reach its target community. So the challenge is being able to identify a really powerful human insight that can bring the charity and your brand together and be a springboard for big creative ideas. When you have something that makes you go “wow I never thought about it like that”, that’s when you know you have something really powerful.

What was the most rewarding or memorable moment about competing (either domestically or globally/virtually)?

KG: The most rewarding part of the competition was definitely the opportunity to head to Cannes. As professionals still early in our careers it gave us an unparalleled opportunity to network with individuals who are all in Cannes searching for the same thing – inspiration. We were in a position to be inspired by the industry’s best, be envious of the work that wasn’t ours, and have pride in representing Canada on a global stage. Somehow, this was all packaged into a whirlwind 5-day trip.

OE: For me, the most memorable moment was definitely winning the Canadian competition! After many years of competing, I’ve had varying degrees of success, placing as a Finalist in 2018 and winning Bronze in 2020, so it was a very rewarding conclusion after many years of attempts to finally win Gold. Also, I can’t not mention being able to go to Cannes to compete globally and attend the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, it was an absolute blast!

How did being crowned Canadian gold winners change, if at all, your perspective or approach to work?

KG: The biggest shift in perspective for me was on realizing the amount of talent we have in the Canadian industry. With only 24 hours to put our skills to the test, it is a testament to the unequivocal talent that is growing up across organizations and agencies in Canada. After the competition and chatting with our cohort, we realized that the majority of competitors all had different interpretations of the brief leading to vastly different outputs. This was a great reminder for me that there never is a “right answer” to the work we do and that not limiting creativity and crafting a compelling story can be the difference maker, both in the competition and in our day-to-day jobs.

OE: The thing I learned the most from the competition is the power of deep and compelling human truth, that’s truly the start of breakthrough work. And although we’re all given the same case, it’s truly inspirational to see the breadth and variety of insights that can be uncovered as everyone brings their own unique experience and human perspective to the brief.

What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to YL Competitors heading into the competition weekend?

KG: Don’t play it safe &, take the risk. I believe we all stepped into a career in marketing & creativity for a reason and the Cannes competition is a way to disconnect from the realities of the day job and put the skills we work on every day to the test. The only true constraint is the amount of time you have. Knowing this, this is an opportunity to truly swing for the fences as long as you are able to succinctly communicate the idea and inspire the judges behind the vision. We found that by the time we figured out our idea, we were jumbled in our own thoughts and could only communicate the idea to ourselves… taking that step back, slowing down, and ensuring we could communicate the magic of our idea in the simplest story possible I believe was the difference maker for Omar and me.

OE: Be very purposeful with how you’re going to use the 24 hours that you have. Have a plan for how you want to start the day, it’s important to build in time for independent discovery and inspiration to really process and digest the case on your own before you get to work with your partner. Also, discuss with your partner how you want to structure the time between collaborative ideation to explore all your possible angles when developing the insight and idea, and when it’s smart to divide and conquer parts independently.

Talk to us about your experience at the virtual Global Young Lions competition. What were some highlights?

KG: The Global Young Lions competition was an absolute blast to participate in. Right from the kick-off, we felt the shift in the magnitude of the competition seeing 450 individuals all representing their home country and a hunger to win. The biggest highlight for me was the opportunity to share our ideas with a jury of executives leading global businesses and brands and understand the types of questions they ask, what they evaluate, and how they make decisions on great creative work. It gave us an opportunity to reach out following the competition and connect live in Cannes to learn, adapt, and adjust to continue to build on our own personal journey in the industry. At the end of the day, we are grateful for the opportunity to represent the Canadian flag and know that the legacy of Canada at the global competition is just getting started!

OE: It was an absolute honour to represent Canada on the global stage. The biggest highlight for me was being able to connect and build relationships with amazing marketers from across the globe. Every country and culture is unique, and that really came through in the submissions as every team brought their unique background to how they would execute in their markets. It was a great opportunity to connect and build networks with all of the other Young Lions!

You can connect with Omar and Kush online using their LinkedIn profiles, and can view their winning work here.

About the Young Lions Competition

The Young Lions competition, happening this year over the weekend of March 4 – March 6, 2023, is where teams of two will participate in a live competition in their registered category (over a 24 to 48- hour period), modeled after the global competitions in Cannes. A brief for a not-for-profit organization will be unveiled when the competition begins.

The winners from our Canadian qualifying competitions will go on to compete in person at the Global Young Lions Competition taking place during the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in Cannes, France from June 19-June 23, 2023.

Visit our competition website here for more information about Young Lions, including, how to register. Registration closes on February 17, 2023.

About the Globe and Mail

The Globe and Mail has been the Official Cannes Lions Festival Representative for the past 17 years and has had the privilege of sending over 60 Canadian teams to compete in the global competition that’s hosted in the south of France in Cannes against some of the best talents from around the world.

As the Competition Sponsor, The Globe awards a prize per Gold-winning team, which includes the registration fees for the virtual Global Young Lions Competition at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, delegate passes to attend the five-day festival, and the cost of flights and accommodation.

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