Rick Lewchuk graduated from Lethbridge College in 1979 with a diploma in Communication Arts. The North Battleford, Sask., native is now senior vice-president of Creative Agency and Brand Strategy for CTV. Wider Horizons tuned in with him about his success in branding the network.
WH: Nice title; what does it mean?
RL: We have upwards of 30 channels to market and promote. Your brand is strategic to your position in the marketplace. I remember a former manager at Coca-Cola said, when asked if he had his choice between the secret Coke formula or the brand, he’d take the brand; it’s worth 80 per cent of the company’s value. Your brand is hugely important, especially in TV. We take care of ours at CTV. I have about 200 people handling all design, production and media buying.
WH: And how’s that process going for you?
RL: CTV hasn’t been easy. Prior to the present owner buying the network, it was run like a co-op, one in which many independent stations played down their CTV affiliation. When Baton got control of the network in 1996, we had a serious look at it. It was in such bad shape we questioned whether it was worth keeping. We made a decision, after eight months of research, that we could rejuvenate the brand. But it’s not been an overnight thing: it’s taken 12 years.
WH: Are you pleased with the situation now?
RL: We’re happy with the recognition at this stage. We continually study and track that to gauge the public’s perception of us. As I say, in the mid-1990s, it was not a strong brand. A lot of that came from the network structure. People in southern Alberta, for instance, would have had a much stronger affinity for CFCN [the Calgary network affiliate] than CTV. It was a much stronger brand than CTV. That’s changed now; most people in southern Alberta wouldn’t think all that much about CFCN as a separate brand; it’s CTV.
WH: How is CBC doing with its brand management?
RL: CBC has a strong brand identity, but it’s not always one you want to have. It works well in some parts of the country, not so well in others. CBC’s brand is not as strong in southern Alberta, for instance, as it is in Ontario; people in southern Alberta think of it as a centrist network. We work well in all areas of the country.
WH: But that hasn’t always been so.
RL: When we started, we were strongest in Saskatchewan and the Maritimes, and weakest in B.C. That’s mainly because the affiliate there hid its CTV ownership as frequently as it could. There’s been much more growth in B.C. now.
WH: How strong is your Canadian identity? Does it tend to get buried by American networks and programs?
RL: I think people identify with us as a Canadian network. One of our competitors – I won’t tell you who it is – has a real identity problem because most people think it’s American. On a day-today basis, it has a problem with its identity. We don’t project ourselves as strictly Canadian, though, because a lot of our more popular programs are American.