Magazine article Marketing

Travel Companion

Magazine article Marketing

Travel Companion

Article excerpt

Nicolas De Santis Marketing director Opodo

The charm and conviviality that Nicolas De S antis radiates as we meet and greet quickly evaporates as I ask him how he is. "I'm getting ready for the war," his stern Spanish voice retorts.

As marketing director of the soon-to-launch pan-European internet travel portal Opodo, his task is to achieve the company's sky-high aim of becoming the biggest online seller of travel products and be profitable by 2004. Its nine major airline shareholders, which include BA, Lufthansa and Air France, will expect nothing less.

"The marketplace is a battlefield, and it's going to be a big bloody battle to conquer consumers' minds. This is especially the case in a commodity sector like travel where there is very little loyalty," he says.

Opodo is two months away from lift-off in Germany and the UK and will roll out in seven other territories from early next year. The summer months have seenDe Santis hire Leagas Delaney and Carat as the creative and media agencies to equip him for the [pound]30m marketing assault that lies ahead.

De Santis, 35, is no stranger to building international brands from scratch. Twelve Stars Communications, the family-run consultancy business founded by his father, created the kidney bean logo behind the now defunct web currency Beenz, which led to him, as he puts it, getting "sucked in" to be its chief marketing officer by founder Philip Letts.

He says he quit Beenz over a disagreement with the board on the firm's strategy and direction and is determined not to repeat its mistakes -- symbolic of the overzealous dotcoms of 1999- with Opodo. "We expanded too fast. Within eight months we were in 12 markets with full-blown operations. My argument was to solidify our position in a small number of B U O G R A P H Y markets before expanding. Being at Beenz was like being on the Titanic, seeing the iceberg and choosing to do nothing about it."

At the end of 2000, De Santis found himself in the enviable position of being headhunted simultaneously by Opodo (then known as 'Online Travel Portal') and Yahoo! to be the internet portal's top European marketer. He shunned the latter the because of the lack of operational autonomy he foresaw from Yahoo!'s US operation.

Born and raised in Madrid, De Santis' Italian father and Spanish mother have both been powerful, if sometimes conflicting influences. His father worked at design consultancy Landor Associates, and he followed in his footsteps by landing his first job there as a project manager for BA. "I was born into branding. Branding is in my DNA ,"he asserts.

To my relief, his initial fighting talk belies a relaxed, jovial manner as he delves deeper into his background. …

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