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Twitter’s star Canadian hire faced with ‘incredible opportunity’

Kirstine Stewart

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Twitter became a multibillion-dollar business by providing its users with a way to voice their opinions. Now, it wants to cash in on what those users want to watch.

The social media site's hiring of Kirstine Stewart, one of the most senior executives at the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., to lead its first regional office in Canada is a signal of the company's growing ambitions to be connected to television.

Ms. Stewart is a veteran broadcasting executive who spent years building expertise in content creation and acquisition – skills that would go to waste if her new job description were simply to oversee an ad sales outpost.

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Faced with constant budgetary pressures at the public broadcaster, a shrinking head count and the prospect of losing the CBC's cash cow, Hockey Night in Canada, after 2014, Ms. Stewart no doubt found appealing the opportunity to work for a company that's growing.

"Her instinct for start-up, for growing, would have been suppressed at the CBC," said former CTV executive Isme Bennie, who has been friends with her for more than 25 years.

Another source who knows Ms. Stewart well said she had been looking for a new job for two years.

"Twitter will be an incredible opportunity to mould something from scratch and, if it goes public, she can benefit in many ways," Ms. Bennie said.

Google's brightly coloured playground slides and bean bag chairs aside, a major technology firm's first Canadian corporate outpost tends to be a dull affair, focused mainly on establishing basic relationships with advertising resellers.

But Twitter is taking a different approach. At first blush, the company seems focused on boosting Canadian advertising revenue. It has posted two Toronto-based job openings, one for account executive and another for account manager.

One of the requirements is "[establishing] a collaborative business relationship between Twitter and Fortune 500 companies, and their marketing agencies."

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But if Twitter's Canadian interests were solely focused on advertising, Ms. Stewart would be an unlikely hire.

Instead, some observers believe Ms. Stewart will become a key player in Twitter's attempt to move into closer partnerships with television.

Already, the company has had some success convincing TV and web shows to urge viewers to tweet about the shows using specific hashtags.

In turn, more content creators are beginning to value the significance of becoming a trending topic on the world's most popular micro-blog. Ms. Stewart's skill set could help Twitter expand these content-focused relationships.

"What Twitter is looking for at this phase is integration with the content experience," said Michael Scissons, founder and CEO of social marketing firm Syncapse Corp.

"[Ms. Stewart] probably has more content programming experience than anybody at Twitter in the world."

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A major part of Twitter's push to cash in on content also involves building relationships with the people who make and star in that content, something with which Ms. Stewart also has experience. The importance of this is evident in the kinds of jobs Twitter has created in cities such as Los Angeles. One such position, for which Twitter is currently hiring, is labelled "TV Talent Manager," and the prospective employee is advised, "you will work with high-profile TV talent and their representatives to make Twitter the 'must have' relationship in a celebrity's life."

Even as Twitter moves into traditional TV and movie content, it is also experimenting with more unorthodox delivery platforms. In October, 2012, the company purchased Vine, an app that allows users create and share very short video clips. Twitter pounced on the start-up just five months after its creation, and used its marketing leverage to make it one of the most popular video creation and sharing apps in the mobile industry.

Just as Google did with YouTube, Twitter is now likely to try to monetize its unlikely hit product – another area where Ms. Stewart's skills might come in handy.

To head the company's Toronto office, Twitter "elected for a much more of a general manager and a content leader than a salesperson," said Mr. Scissons. "That speaks to where they're going as a company. If their ambition was only four or five sales guys in Canada, they wouldn't have made such a signature hire."

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About the Author

Based in Toronto, Michael Posner has been with the Globe and Mail since 1997, writing for arts, news and features.Before that, he worked for Maclean's Magazine and the Financial Times of Canada, and has freelanced for Toronto Llfe, Chatelaine, Walrus, and Queen's Quarterly magazines. More


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