Ned Brody, the AOL exec who runs the company's adtech group AOL Networks, is leaving the company. AOL CEO Tim Armstrong notified staff this morning.
"With growth comes change and I wanted to share some news with you today," AOL Tim Armstrong said in a memo to AOL's staff today. "First, Ned Brody has resigned to pursue other opportunities and I have stepped in as acting head of AOL Networks. I am just coming off an incredible few days at ad:tech San Francisco where in addition to the keynote, I spent time with the AOL Networks team and in client meetings. We truly have a stellar group of strong operators within AOL Networks, an extremely strong product organization and a strategy that is really paying off in the marketplace." (Read the full memo below.)
That other opportunity is said to be the vacant Americas chief role at Yahoo, AllThingsD reported on Wednesday evening. If that happened, Yahoo might pay Mr. Brody to not work for a year to avoid a non-compete agreement he has with AOL, the report said. AOL is said to be weighing its options.
Mr. Brody is more an analyst and operations guy than the kind of salesman-in-chief that Madison Avenue seems to think Yahoo needs. Much of the thinking in the industry was that Yahoo needed a dynamic personality that would love to give agencies and big marketers the attention they say they are not getting from the new Yahoo leadership team. Mr. Brody is likely not that person. Back in 2011, he admitted as much in an interview with Ad Age after being named president of AOL Advertising.
"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.'" he said at the time. "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?"
Yet, on the other hand, Mr. Brody is the kind of analytical, product-focused exec that might fit well in an organization run by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer.
Either way, people inside Yahoo feel that the company cannot afford to have this position sit vacant another year while Mr. Brody sits out his non-compete. That would seem to be unlikely.
There's another layer of intrigue here. In the last year, Mr. Brody is said to have pitched Yahoo on the idea of merging the two companies' adtech divisions and forming a separate public company. It's not clear if this idea had the backing of Mr. Armstrong. The thinking was that neither company could compete with Google's adtech stack on its own, but might be able to together.
Just last week, Mr. Brody was attending press meetings in New York to discuss AOL's latest addition to its suite of ad-tech products – a so-called SSP, which aims to help publishers manage and sell the ad space that their direct sales teams don't sell, often through real-time auctions . His group – which houses the Ad.com network and the company's other ad-tech offerings – grew 37% in the fourth quarter from the prior year, easily making it the fastest-growing business unit at AOL.
Mr. Brody did not respond to a voice message. A Yahoo spokeswoman said the company does not comment on "rumors or speculation."
Read Mr. Armstrong's full memo below:
With growth comes change and I wanted to share some news with you today.
First, Ned Brody has resigned to pursue other opportunities and I have stepped in as acting head of AOL Networks. I am just coming off an incredible few days at ad:tech San Francisco where in addition to the keynote, I spent time with the AOL Networks team and in client meetings. We truly have a stellar group of strong operators within AOL Networks, an extremely strong product organization and a strategy that is really paying off in the marketplace. Now with the launch of MARKETPLACE, we can offer solutions across the entire digital advertising ecosystem. The strategy will remain the same and we will continue to look for ways to quicken the pace of its execution.
Change is natural for large organizations like AOL and we are no strangers to change. It has made us stronger and has led us to the significantly improved operating performance we have reported in recent quarters. We have strong leaders, strong teams, and a strong plan.
As many of you know, we've been conducting a search for a head of communications. I'm pleased to announce that we have hired Peter Land as Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications. Peter, who officially joins us April 22, will develop and oversee our global external and internal corporate communications strategies and work with each of the brands to drive their respective communications efforts. He'll be a member of the executive team and report into me.
Peter joins AOL from PepsiCo, where he served in a number of senior leadership roles – most recently overseeing global media strategy, financial communications and issues management. He joined PepsiCo in 2009 to oversee communications for the PepsiCo America Beverages division and manage the company's corporate digital strategy.
Peter brings more than 25 years of senior level communications experience working for several of the world's leading media companies and brands. He has an ability to navigate the dynamic media and digital environments, develop and manage teams worldwide and work strategically and effectively in both the consumer marketing and corporate reputation arenas, and he will be a critically important member of our leadership team.
I have spent a lot of time with Peter already, and he's excited to join the team. His experience will align well with our brand company mission. He comes with world-class brand experience, and he has managed multi-faceted, multi-stakeholder efforts on a global stage, which will become more and more important to AOL as we continue to grow.
Before joining PepsiCo, Peter was a global managing director of Edelman. Earlier in his career, he was Director of Marketing Communications for the NBA and worked for Kraft Foods in London as Director of European Promotions, among other roles.
Let's thank Ned for his contributions and welcome Peter to the team.