Can Ned Brody Lead AOL’s Ad Comeback?

Ned Brody recently served as president and head of B2B Businesses at AOL before taking over two weeks ago as president of advertising and CRO. Brody is unbowed by skeptical critics and market share volatility alike. AOL saw advertising grow in the second quarter, but the news did little to stop the company’s stock from going into freefall. The key challenges facing AOL aren’t to find a new strategy, according to Brody, but to organize its structure in order to best do brand advertising at scale online.

How are you fitting into your role?
The most important thing is to understand what the role of chief revenue officer means at AOL. The role is mainly to focus on improving AOL’s advertising revenue by managing advertising product development, sales channels, pricing, process improvement, advertising systems and product diversification. Since the announcement of my appointment, some of the press has mistakenly equated the role with managing the sales force. Managing the sales force is certainly part of that purview, but is not the most critical element; we have five excellent sales leaders who manage our world-class sales force, all of which have terrific relationships with advertisers and agencies. Add to that a dedicated agency team, great industry experts, and fantastic advertising operations teams and much of that job is done for me. I will be focusing on all of the other areas. In my career, I have had the privilege to hold a lot of different roles. I’ve been responsible for closing large advertising deals, been an entrepreneur, the CFO of a public company, a strategy consultant, etc. What I learned in all of these roles is to listen to customers, partners, and employees to identify impediments to growth, develop processes and initiatives to improve results, diversify businesses in terms of channels and products, and create platforms that are scalable. These are the skill sets that I believe Tim Armstrong had in mind when he asked me to take on this new job.
AOL has had a bumpy ride lately. How is AOL attempting to prove its detractors wrong?
We have primed the pump with products and now we need to scale them to get great results for our partners and shareholders. The changes we recently made were about putting a maniacal focus on operational efficiency. It was about recognizing that we had great sales management already in place with our regional vice presidents, advance team, and network sales leadership, and needed to focus on how to scale that talent by driving operational efficiencies. Some people have misinterpreted what we mean by operations. It’s not about fixing issues at AOL. When we say driving operational efficiencies we mean:  how do you scale a product; how do you change a product into a platform to drive growth; how do you expand the feature set of an already existing product vs. building something new? We wanted to ensure that we approached these changes from the very top. This is not a change in strategy. We have been consistent with our strategy: premium content, premium advertising, cutting-edge technology and scale. Putting extra focus on operational efficiencies should better position us in the marketplace for growth.
How will AOL attempt to position itself as a global partner for publishers, advertisers and agencies?

Our goal is to drive excellence in premium monetization at scale with our owned and operated properties and our third-party network, Advertising.com. We are well-positioned to be the only company to offer creation, distribution and monetization across content, video and premium advertising formats. We will do this at scale to meet the needs of publishers, advertisers and agencies across both our media properties and our network. We are also focused on driving publisher yield and offering global advertising products and solutions with our sales force under one organization.
What will AOL do differently now in terms of display strategy?
We will continue to be focused on premium products and services for consumers, advertisers and publishers. And we are constantly innovating and driving metrics that align well with brand building online.Two significant display initiatives include Project Devil and AOL Video.With the launch of Project Devil and the acquisition of Pictela in 2010, we have innovated in the display marketplace where there has been little change in the last 15 years. Earlier this year, IAB Portrait and IAB Pushdown were both named Rising Stars by the IAB. We signed on our first third-party publishers to deploy these units, and we conducted research proving the effectiveness of IAB Portrait ad units versus traditional display advertising. We found that the unit attracts attention two times faster and viewers looked at it four times more often and four times longer and advertisers continue to renew as engagement metrics continue to improve. AOL Video is a comprehensive and powerful video offering – ranging from original content creation to syndication, distribution and monetization, to the delivery of a compelling and engaging consumer experience. We have the only complete online video solution on the Web, offering premium video at scale. We will continue to focus on best in class environments for advertisers to put their brands and reach their consumers online.

What’s the challenge on the content front?
There are two significant efforts to highlight around our content initiatives: The Huffington Post and Patch. With the acquisition of The Huffington Post earlier this year, we continue to focus on creating rich content experiences for our users. Since being acquired by AOL in February, unique visitors to The Huffington Post alone are up significantly. And in the second quarter, The Huffington Post surpassed the New York Times in Comscore unique-visitor rankings and passed 100 million comments, which is a reminder that our readers are engaged and passionate. We also recently launched international versions of The Huffington Post in Canada and the UK, and we’ve launched a number of new verticals within The Huffington Post including HuffPost BlackVoices, HuffPost Women, HuffPost Parents and HuffPost Celebrity. Patch, our local news and information platform in more than 850 communities across the country, which hit 1 million posts recently, is another example of AOL leading in the marketplace. Professional journalists are driving local news and information happening at the neighborhood level and community members are engaging with the sites – from listing events to adding photos to blogging. So we continue to evolve, we plan to become one of the next great media companies of the digital age, and we will continue to focus on creating rich, engaging and easy content experiences for consumers.

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