The StockHouse powerhouse

Armed with nearly US$30 million in new capital from such backers as Hollinger and Liberty Media Group, a Vancouver-based Web site has launched its inaugural marketing campaign - an estimated US$5 million to US$10 million effort aimed at positioning itself as...

Armed with nearly US$30 million in new capital from such backers as Hollinger and Liberty Media Group, a Vancouver-based Web site has launched its inaugural marketing campaign – an estimated US$5 million to US$10 million effort aimed at positioning itself as the leading online destination for financial investors around the world.

In early February, kicked off its global campaign in Canada with a series of humorous newspaper ads in the National Post promoting its Canadian site, (StockHouse also operates sites for the U.K., Australian, Hong Kong and U.S. markets). In the next few months, an even bigger campaign will break in the U.S., one that will include television spots to run on the financial network CNBC.

The Canadian ads, created by Vancouver ad shop Rethink, were designed to drum up awareness for the brand, and to communicate the site’s offerings, which include original editorial content, online discussion groups called ‘Bullboards’, and portfolio tracking.

So far, the creative has proved to be a success – almost too much of a success, explains Jeff Berwick, the company’s 29-year-old president and CEO.

‘Our traffic has actually doubled on the Canadian site in the last two weeks because of the marketing,’ he says, noting the increased traffic momentarily caused the site to crash. ‘But we’re back up again.’

Berwick actually chuckles when he describes the mini-meltdown. And why not?

A self-described computer junkie since the age of 12, Berwick left his native Edmonton in 1991 and moved to Vancouver, where he took a job as a teller at CIBC. By 1995, about the same time the Internet was starting to take off, Berwick had become an investment advisor at the bank, where he gained considerable knowledge of the financial markets. Seeing an immediate opportunity, he founded StockHouse, and began building the site by himself, handling everything from programming, to Web-page design, to sales and editorial.

Although StockHouse had never promoted itself prior to the current campaign, the site had already attracted a remarkable number of visitors, largely though word of mouth within the chatty online investment community. In fact, StockHouse may be the most popular Internet property you’ve never heard of – Berwick claims StockHouse, whose figures are audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers, gets more visitors than any other Web site in Canada.

As of mid-February, he says the site received 120 million page views per month (60 million on the site, 50 million on and about 10 million on the Hong Kong and Australian sites) and close to three million unique visitors per month (although only 1.2 million were visitors to the Canadian site).

Activity on the site’s Bullboards has been equally impressive. Approximately 1,000 people are registering for the message boards each day, and daily postings are in the 10,000 range. That’s enough to make StockHouse the fourth most popular financial message board in the world, trailing only Yahoo!, Raging Bull and the Silicon Investor.

When you combine StockHouse’s traffic with its blue-chip demographics – 100% are investors, 84% have a university education, and the average user income is greater than $70,000 – you’d think advertisers would be tripping over each other to paste their banners on the site.

But so far, other than a handful of notable clients like E*Trade, Mercedes-Benz and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the stream of advertisers has looked more like a trickle – a circumstance Berwick attributes in part to the measurement methodology used by Web advertising measurement firm Media Metrix Canada (see story, page one).

The lack of third party audit numbers, however, hasn’t dissuaded some powerful backers from injecting significant capital into StockHouse. The site is currently valued at US$120 million, thanks largely to recent investments by Conrad Black-controlled Hollinger, which kicked in between US$5 million to US$10 million, AT&T programming arm Liberty Media, and, which anted up US$20 million. Berwick is currently holding meetings with underwriters, and says he expects StockHouse will launch an initial public offering later this year.

In addition to funding its marketing push, the recent investments have allowed StockHouse to begin beefing up its site. The company just opened its broadband office in New York, and plans to add a live video component to its site in the next six months. A high-profile producer at CNBC has been lured away to head up StockHouse’s interactive television division, which will eventually be offered in Canada.

Although StockHouse doesn’t provide any e-commerce functions on its site (Berwick says he refuses to turn StockHouse into a mall), it does plan to move into the fast-growing online trading market. According to Toronto-based Investor Economics, Canadians had more than $70 billion worth of assets in discount brokerages after the third quarter of 1999, compared to only $15 billion in 1993. While Internet trading still accounted for only 19% of all trades, that figure was more than double the 8.5% of 1998.

Instead of setting up its own brokerage, however, StockHouse plans to integrate virtual brokers like E*Trade into its site, and collect a transaction fee.

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.