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AOL’s new advertising chief:
No, I’m really not a salesman
Brody looks to enhance ties with existing advertisers, and calls on experience
as researcher to bring market perspective to the sales team’s ‘ground wars’
■ BY JASON DEL REY firstname.lastname@example.org
IT’S BEEN LESS than two months
since Tim Armstrong removed Jeff
Levick as AOL’s head of ad sales and
promoted Ned Brody to a newly
created chief revenue officer role
and president of AOL Advertising.
In that time, AOL has weathered
sharp stock-price fluctuations, a
very public personnel scandal
around the launch of TechCrunch
founder Michael Arrington’s ven-ture-capital arm and rumors of a
possible asset selloff. We recently
sat down with Mr. Brody—who
many in adland don’t know all that
well—to find out how he expects to
help save the floundering giant.
What should marketers and
advertisers who aren’t familiar
with you know?
There’s been a lot in the press where
people looked and sort of said, “He
doesn’t have 25 years of carrying a
bag and selling in the marketplace.”
They are right. But I have five [sales
heads] who combined have much
more than 25 [years of sales]. What I
was put in place to do was to help
them sell significantly more. And you
do that by figuring out what markets
need. I have a background in market
research and strategy consulting, in
operating as an entrepreneur—how
do you actually grow things quickly?
... How you define those products;
how you think about pricing and
promotion; how you rapidly grow
businesses; and how you make sure
they don’t collapse under the weight
of their own growth?
What are your goals?
My goal is not to be out there building
individual relationships with
advertisers; my goal is to enhance the
relationships that those advertisers
already have with AOL and make sure
each of our salespeople is equipped
with the best set of products and
systems in the marketplace to satisfy
the demands. We are going to try to
provide better definitions of what it is
we sell, more case studies of where
products have performed and more
data for advertisers who might not
have tried us to understand whether
those products will work for them in
the marketplace. And we will probably
try to put new products into the
market where we think we have gaps.
What are those gaps?
We have really good mobile, for
example, but we need more mobile
advertising products in the
marketplace. We also have to think
about what the next new dynamic
advertisements are going to be,
what’s the future of Pictela and Devil
[AOL’s big, rich-media ad unit].
How do you grow ad revenue?
There are very few RFPs in the
industry that we are not in on. Our win
rate I would like to see go up like any
other advertising company. How do
you segment that list of things you
don’t win and how do you then create
better products, pricing and systems
to make sure that you win a higher
percentage? I don’t think there’s a
silver bullet out there that says, “ah, if
they only do this, then they would
win.” Frankly, these are ground wars.
You basically figure out what it is
that’s stopping you from selling 10, 15,
20, 25% more than you are today,
and then you go and you fix that
problem. ... I think the truth is our
products are resonating, but how do
you get them to resonate 15 to 20%
more than they did before?
How are you capitalizing on
the acquisition of The
I think we’ve only begun to capitalize
on that brand. It took two to three
months to integrate the systems, to be
able to sell it as a unified platform. That
only happened this summer. If
Huffington Post has a DNA, it’s a DNA
in social. So you’ll probably see more
social-advertising products and they’ll
be applicable to the entirety of the
AOL owned-and-operated business
lines. Is it all done? No, there are small
things that still need to be fixed. I’ll give
you an example: a Huffington Post
editorial typically is a banner that runs
across the whole page. If you’re
running a Devil advertisement, the
Devil advertisement would be pushed
below the fold. We don’t think that’s a
good treatment of the Devil
advertisement, so we made the
decision not to put them on certain
pages until we can come up with
changes to make them more effective.
Anything else we haven’t covered
that you want to talk about?
One of the things I believe that you
need to be able to offer [is] testing. ...
And we haven’t been as good as we
could have about providing testing
opportunities to people to try us.
People who haven’t advertised with
us in a while would not understand
the wealth of products we have, the
breadth of pricing, the total volume
we can deliver. Please, give us a shot. I
know that sounds …
Sales-y. And, as I told you, I’m not a
salesperson (laughs). From AOL.com,
which is a brand-new, completely
different home-page experience than
it used to be, to Huffington Post, to
Engadget, to video assets, to what
we’re doing in mobile, what we’re
going to do in social, it’s a very
different advertising experience.
Just thought you left that out.