AOL -- in the midst of a turnaround but still facing headwinds -- likely isn't the first place you'd expect one of the digital agency world's leading execs to land, but that's what happened this week when Razorfish Global CEO Bob Lord jumped ship to run AOL Networks, the group that houses Advertising.com, AdTech and several acquisitions including Pictela.
It's a big hire for a division that is an AOL bright spot -- and, from Mr. Lord's point of view, an acknowledgment of how important "the stack" will be to the future of advertising.
What's a stack? A set of technologies that powers online advertising in a series of lightning-fast decisions that occurs between the moment a person visits a website and the ads load. When you think of an ad stack, most people think of Google, which started building its platform when it acquired DoubleClick.
But AOL has one too, and by bringing on Mr. Lord, it's doubling down.
"I don't think in marketing you can just do it through agency work anymore. You need a really great product stack," he said.
Interestingly, it is a world in which traditional agencies have struggled. While holding companies have trading desks that help them buy audiences, their track record in owning ad tech is poor. In most cases agencies are users, not owners, of stacks.
Mr. Lord said AOL is well-suited to capitalize on the rise of automated ad buying because its business already blends advertising and editorial, which he sees as an advantage over others. "Adobe sometimes lacks the creative juices," he said, "and a traditional-media company like a Hearst lacks … the technology core to understand it and understand what's possible."
In April Mr. Lord co-wrote with Razorfish CTO Ray Valez a book about the merger of marketing, media and technology called "Converge," which AOL CEO Tim Armstrong said "reads like the AOL strategy document."
But blending media and technology, especially when it comes to selling ads, hasn't always been easy. Yahoo, for example, admitted earlier this week that the rise of automated ad buying has hindered its ability to directly sell ads and, in turn, hurt its revenue.
The deal shows that AOL has enough potential upside -- both its business and its stock -- to make the big hire. While AOL has lost a slew of key execs this year, including COO Arthur Minson and former AOL Networks CEO Ned Brody, it has also landed some heavy-hitters in Mr. Lord and former Gilt Groupe and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia CEO Susan Lyne.
"If you compared us to a sports team, we have not only gone up to better players but now have player-coaches," Mr. Armstrong said.