Online portal providers prepare for battle

A pitched marketing battle will soon be shaping up in the Canadian online portal industry, where major corporate players like Bell Canada, Rogers Communications and Quebecor are jockeying furiously to become the preferred online destination for Canadian Web surfers, and control...

A pitched marketing battle will soon be shaping up in the Canadian online portal industry, where major corporate players like Bell Canada, Rogers Communications and Quebecor are jockeying furiously to become the preferred online destination for Canadian Web surfers, and control the leading gateway to Canada’s emerging e-commerce market.

Bell Canada, the current leader of the pack, is preparing to launch a major marketing initiative to promote its recent joint venture with Waltham, Mass.-based Lycos, which will see the unveiling of a revamped Canadian portal, called Sympatico-Lycos, on May 1.

Sympatico, which is already the most popular domestic Web site among Canadians, with approximately 2.4 million unique visitors in December, according to Media Metrix, will gain a number of Lycos-branded properties under the deal, including free e-mail, homepage building, shopping and personalized news.

Although Sympatico currently generates a relatively modest $17.5 million in annual advertising revenue, Bell Canada chairman and CEO Jean Monty recently said he expects the added traffic from the Lycos deal to boost the Web site’s revenue to as much as $100 million by the end of 2001.

The deal may not have been the Canadian version of the landmark AOL-Time Warner merger that was inked last month, but Internet analysts say Bell’s investment in the joint venture is a step in the right direction.

‘I think it’s a good first step that helps Sympatico enhance its lead, and get some outside content,’ explains George Karidis, an analyst with Brockville, Ont.-based Yankee Group. ‘[But] I think the real play here is how does [Bell] take what it develops with Lycos and turn it into a broadband service.’

Broadband, or high-capacity, high-speed access, is crucial to the success of both Bell and its chief rival, Rogers Communications, since it enables Internet surfers to access video-on-demand, telephone and other forms of rich online content that are driving mergers such as the one between AOL and Time Warner.

Rogers increased its high-speed Internet subscriber base by nearly 47,000 last week when it purchased Montreal-based cable giant Le Groupe Vidéotron in a deal estimated to be worth nearly $6 billion. The marriage will boost Rogers’ total high-speed user base to 232,700, substantially more than the 51,000 members who are signed up with Bell’s high-speed dial-up service.

And on March 1, Rogers will make its first foray into the portal business with the launch of

Excite.ca. The Web site, a 50-50 partnership between Rogers Media and U.S.-based Excite@Home, will offer original Canadian content from the Rogers Media division, which publishes titles such as Canadian Business and Chatelaine, as well as from a number of other partners, says Rogers spokesperson Jan Innes. The initial site will offer only narrowband service, although a broadband version is in the works.

But not every analyst feels that Canadian content will prove much of a draw to consumers.

‘The portal guys have not come anywhere close to figuring this out,’ says Jordan Worth, an analyst at International Data Corporation (Canada) in Toronto. ‘[Canadian content] hasn’t necessarily been the make or break scenario for any communications organization in this country that can rely on American content. The cable companies have made a history of that – basically what sells their services is the U.S. content.’

Quebecor-controlled Canoe, meanwhile, has also been busy enhancing its Web site with original branded properties, like its recently launched Lifewise site, and plans to announce a deal with a distribution provider later this month, says Rosanne Caron, vice-president, marketing and research, with Canoe. Canoe, which is part of Quebecor’s new media division, currently ranks fourth among the most popular Canadian Web sites, with just under 1.3 million unique visitors in December, according to Media Metrix.

But unlike Bell or Rogers, the portal has no way to actually get into Canadian homes. Any deal with an Internet Service Provider (ISP) would likely make Canoe the default home page for that service, thus increasing visitors to the site and consequently, ad dollars.

Corner Officer Shifts: Martin Fecko leaves Tangerine

Plus, PointsBet Canada and Thinkific name new marketing leaders as Lole gets a new ecommerce VP.
Corner Office

Martin Fecko departs Tangerine 

After roughly two years of serving as Tangerine’s chief marketing officer, Martin Fecko has a new gig. And this time, the financial services vet will apply his marketing leadership to a new sector, having been named CMO of Dentalcorp.

Fecko will lead the dental network’s end-to-end patient journey, support its overall growth, and work to maximize patient experiences across every touchpoint, the company said in a release.

“Martin’s in-depth expertise in engaging and retaining customers through a digitally enabled experience will be valuable in realizing our vision to be Canada’s most trusted healthcare network,” said Dentalcorp president Guy Amini.

Prior to joining Scotiabank’s digital-only banking brand in late-2019, Fecko was country manager for Intuit Canada and spent 10 years at American Express in consumer and digital marketing.

PointsBet Canada nabs former Bell marketer as it pursues expansion

Dave Rivers has joined PointsBet, an online gaming and sports betting operator, as Canadian VP of marketing.

Rivers joins from Bell, where he was most recently director of brand marketing and sponsorship, responsible for driving the company’s national sponsorship strategy and portfolio. He will report to PointsBet Canada chief commercial officer Nic Sulsky.

According to Sulsky, Rivers will “play a key role as we prepare to launch a business that is unique to our roots here in Canada.”

PointsBet has a significant presence in Australia, where it was founded, and in the U.S. In July, it named Scott Vanderwel, a former SVP at Rogers, as CEO of its Canadian subsidiary, one of several hires aimed at establishing the company’s presence locally.

Thinkific names first CMO among other executive appointments

Vancouver’s Thinkific, a platform for creating, marketing and selling online courses, has appointed Henk Campher as its first chief marketing officer as it invests in marketing to support its growth plans. It has also upped Chris McGuire to the role of chief technology officer and moved former CTO and co-founder Matt Payne into the new role of SVP of innovation.

Co-founder and CEO Greg Smith said Campher and McGuire “will play key roles building high-functioning teams around them and optimizing investment as we continue to carve out an increasingly prominent and differentiated position in the global market.”

Campher joins from Hootsuite, where he was VP of corporate marketing. Before that, he was VP of brand and communications at CRM giant Salesforce.

Lolë names new VP of digital omni-commerce as parent company exits bankruptcy protection

The Montreal-based athletic apparel and accessories retailer has appointed Rob French as VP of digital omni-commerce.

French will lead Lolë’s efforts in consumer insights, supply chain-to-consumer models and online customer journeys. In what is a new role for the company, he will also work to grow the company’s retail brand. He arrives with sixteen years experience in ecommerce, having spent the last few years as chief digital commerce officer at sporting goods retailer Decathlon.

In May 2020, Lolë parent Coalision Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection, citing several years of losses as a result of a downturn in the retail clothing market, increased competition and excess inventory – problems exacerbated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of the filing, Coalision was seeking an investor or purchaser of its assets.

It successfully exited bankruptcy protection last year and is currently rebuilding its executive team, according to a spokesperson.