Online Direct piggy-backs on popular sites

Why build an audience when someone's already gone to the trouble for you? That seems to be the thinking behind Online Direct, a Toronto company that identifies small to medium-sized vertical-interest Web sites, gives them a leg up in the interactive...

Why build an audience when someone’s already gone to the trouble for you?

That seems to be the thinking behind Online Direct, a Toronto company that identifies small to medium-sized vertical-interest Web sites, gives them a leg up in the interactive department, and then promotes them to advertisers willing to pay for the chance to get closer to a loyal, targeted audience.

‘We don’t go cold turkey and say, ‘This is a nice topic, let’s create a Web site and hope people come,” says David Cravit, sales and marketing director for Online Direct. ‘We want to piggy-back on an already established audience.’

It’s a model that Cravit is confident will appeal to advertisers who are fed up with paying for general interest banner ads that typically generate clickthrough rates of less than one per cent.

To that end, Online Direct recently announced the first two of its ‘private brand’ Internet communities with the launch of WellnessWeb – a Philadelphia-based site that has been offering health information over the Net since 1995 – and the Ben Wicks children’s literacy site.

More than a dozen other sites are in the works, says Cravit, six of which are in Canada, including that of a major Canadian retail chain, a large financial services company and a major paint manufacturer sponsoring a home décor and improvement community.

As the subject matter of the first two sites suggest, they are the embodiment of ‘vertically oriented’ Web vehicles, with features pertaining to very specific audiences. In many respects, they are typical of the small to medium-sized, information-based Web sites on the Net that draw a considerable amount of traffic but are without the wherewithal to generate their own revenues. Online Direct converts those sites into fully interactive and transactional communities by attracting advertisers craving the opportunity to target their Web advertising directly toward a specific audience.

At no cost to the partner, Online Direct supplies the site with a salesforce, as well as chat, messaging, forum, virtual greeting, home-page creator and cybermall tools. Proprietary tools include an online catalogue for vendors, polling and surveying software, and database tracking software. Revenue is generated through several different streams, including banner advertising, opt-in e-mail, couponing, promotions, sponsorships and e-commerce/shopping. A portion of the revenue generated is shared with the partner site.

The key to the no-fee model, according to Cravit, is that the partner site has an existing audience that is valuable to a certain population of advertisers.

As an example, WellnessWeb currently records about 200,000 unique visitors per month. Earlier this year, in a bid to become self-supporting, Lenore Howe, executive editor with the organization, struck up discussions with Online Direct and together the duo launched a bigger, better site in early November.

‘This was a perfect match up between an old, large Web site that didn’t have a clue how to do all this, and a young, new company with all the software and ideas,’ she says.

While it’s a little early for specific results, she says, the community established about 12 online forums on different health topics and reached roughly 1,200 to 1,500 registered members in the first month after its metamorphosis.

‘We can communicate with members in many ways – we still have the e-mail option, but now I can direct the e-mail queries back into the community to post messages on the forum boards. It creates a much more interactive atmosphere among the visitors,’ says Howe.

She says she is now able to tell advertisers exactly who the typical visitor is based on simple registration forms and tracking software. The site currently touts a community centre for members to stay abreast of relevant events, a personal organizer for scheduling appointments and events, a medical directory that lists doctors, hospitals and clinics, and a wellness shop that offers health-oriented products and services. Further opportunities for national and specialty health vendors and advertisers to sponsor live chats or educational programs, or even conduct focus groups online, are in the works.

‘So far we’ve kept things like our polling feature very general with a question about health concerns, but we can well imagine working with companies in the future to formulate survey questions about specific topics, areas, and products, for example. It’s the perfect medium for that,’ Howe says.

In Brief: The Garden picks CDs to take on daily creative leadership

Plus, Naked names two new leaders of its own and Digital Ethos comes to Canada.

The Garden promotes two creative directors

ACDs Lindsay Eady and Francheska Galloway-Davis have taken over responsibility for day-to-day creative leadership at The Garden after being promoted to creative director roles.

The pair will also help develop the agency’s creative talent, formalizing mentorship and leadership activities they have been doing since joining the agency four and three years ago, respectively. In addition to creating the agency’s internship program, the pair have worked on campaigns for Coinsquare, FitTrack and “The Coke Challenge” campaign for DanceSafe.

Eady and Galloway-Davis will continue to report to The Garden’s co-founder and chief creative officer Shane Ogilvie, who is stepping back from daily creative duties to a more high-level strategic role, allowing him to focus on client relationships and business growth.

Naked Creative Consultancy names new creative and strategy leadership

Toronto’s Naked Creative Consultancy has hired Yasmin Sahni as its new creative director. She is taking over creative leadership from David Kenyon, who has been in the role for 10 years and is moving into a new role as director of strategy, leading the discipline at the agency.

Sahni is coming off of three years as VP and ECD at GTB’s Toronto office, where she managed all the retail, social and service creative for Ford Canada. She previously managed both Vice Media and Vice’s in-house ad agency Virtue.

Peter Shier, president of Naked, says Sahni’s hiring adds to its creative bench and capabilities, as well as a track record of mentorship, a priority for the company. Meanwhile, Kenyon’s move to the strategy side, he says, makes sense because of his deep knowledge of its clients, which have included Ancestry and The Globe and Mail.

Digital Ethos opens a Toronto office

U.K. digital agency Digital Ethos is pursuing new growth opportunities in North America by opening a new office in Toronto.

Though it didn’t disclose them, the agency has begun serving a number of North American clients, and CEO/founder Luke Tobin says the “time was right to invest in a more formal and actual presence in the area.” whose services include design, SEO, pay-per-click, social media, influencer and PR,

This year, the agency’s growth has also allowed it to open an office in Hamburg, Germany, though it also has remote staff working in countries around the world.

Moray Hickes was the company’s first North American hire as VP of sales, tasked with business development in the region.