AOL's New Advertising Chief: No, I'm Really Not a Salesman

Brody Looks to Enhance Ties With Existing Advertisers, and Brings Market Perspective to the Sales Team's 'Ground Wars'

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Ned Brody
Ned Brody

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 venture-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.

Ad Age : What should marketers and advertisers who aren't familiar with you know?

Mr. Brody: 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?

Ad Age : What are your goals?

Mr. Brody: 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.

Ad Age : What are those gaps?

Mr. Brody: 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].

Ad Age : How do you grow ad revenue?

Mr. Brody: 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?

Ad Age : How are you capitalizing on the acquisition of The Huffington Post?

Mr. Brody: 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.

Ad Age : Anything else we haven't covered that you want to talk about?

Mr. Brody: 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 ...

Ad Age : Sales-y?

Mr. Brody: 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.

Ad Age : TechCrunch?

Mr. Brody: TechCrunch.

Ad Age : Just thought you left that out.

Mr. Brody: Yes, TechCrunch, of course.

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