Agency veteran Bob Lord left his role as Razorfish CEO last week to head up AOL’s ad technology business. Digiday caught up with him to find out why he decided to leave the agency business after 10 years, and why AOL appealed to him.
What made you decide to leave Razorfish and join AOL?
I’m a technologist at heart. When you understand how hard digital marketing is to do, you realize that products have to be a big component of the future of marketing. I was looking for another step in my career where product was the dominant piece and services was the icing. Publicis and Razorfish are the opposite: That’s 90 percent services with technology sprinkled in.
What won’t you miss about the agency business?
When you become part of a holding entity, there are these holding-entity approaches that creep in. With that comes bureaucracy and slowness, and I won’t miss that. There’s still a large portion of Publicis using Lotus Notes, for example.
You’ve been in the agency business for years; why leave now?
The agency world is at a crossroads. The past few years I haven’t had the flexibility to invest in the services side of the Razorfish business. It’s difficult to invest and innovate as a brand when you’re not seeing margin from products. It’s mostly just the economics. Being in the services business, you can’t make money while you sleep.
Should agencies be investing more in technology, then?
It’s difficult for agencies to buy or to build technology. The opportunity for agencies now is to partner with tech stack companies, put wrappers around it, and take solutions to marketers that makes their life easy. Right now, CMOs don’t want to know about the Lumascape. They care about selling hotel rooms and dealer appointments. There are two tech stacks that can succeed in this space: Google and AOL.
So AOL is hoping to compete with Google on the ad technology front?
There’s a competitive angle, but at the same time, I think AOL is approaching things differently. Google’s going after the long tail and remnant inventory, but I know there are marketers out there that value premium content and opportunities. AOL wants to use the same technologies as Google but do it at the premium end.
AOL has been talking about the concept of “live advertising.” What does that actually mean?
People are captivated by live events. When the lights went out at the Super Bowl, everyone was dumbfounded. Oreo did something smart, but there aren’t a lot of outlets to do live advertising and creative quickly like that. That’s what AOL wants to figure out. How do you give marketers a mechanism to correspond with consumers in real time? How do you use live consumer voices in ads?
Is real-time marketing here to stay?
I do think there’s a place for real time around big events. Things like the Zimmerman trial verdict, for example. I do believe in brands and agencies creating control rooms. When there are big live events happening, Razorfish staffs up those types of rooms, either in person, or using things like video chat. You need to come up with an idea in five minutes, not five hours. It’s a challenge in the industry. There are barriers all over the place, like legal departments, but there are ways of working around it.
Do you still have a personal AOL email account?
I do! I still use my old dial-up email address.