The key to proving AOL's importance as an advertising company lies in a 6-month-old division called Platform A, composed of seven ad-network and technology companies AOL has amalgamated from more than $1 billion worth of acquisitions.
It won't be an easy job -- already its first chief, former Tacoda CEO Curt Viebranz, is out. But Lynda Clarizio, a corporate-lawyer-turned-operator (she most recently ran AOL's largest ad network, Advertising.com), is moving quickly: Within two weeks of Mr. Viebranz's sudden departure and her subsequent appointment to president, Ms. Clarizio had named a new leadership team and outlined her integration plans.
Her goal for Platform A, she said, is to "be the most effective and efficient marketplace for buying and selling of online advertising -- display, search, mobile, video and affiliate advertising." Ad Age Digital Editor Abbey Klaassen talked to Ms. Clarizio about Platform A's need for speed, what exactly she's integrating and how she hopes to approach advertisers.
Ad Age: Explain to us what all these assets you're charged with integrating are.
Ms. Clarizio: I do believe it's the best collection of advertising technologies on the web, which is why I'm so excited about what Platform A will be offering to advertisers. When you look at the technologies, we have AdLearn, which are the algorithms that drive the Advertising.com network -- they optimize, target and deliver advertising that meets advertising objectives across the Advertising.com network. We have Tacoda, which I regard as the industry's best behavioral-targeting technology. We have Quigo, which has what I believe to be the industry's premier contextual-targeting technology for placing text links on content sites. We have OutSearch, the search-engine-marketing technology that Advertising.com uses. ... We have Buy.at, our most recent acquisition, a platform that drives e-commerce-based affiliate markets. And we have AdTech, which is Europe's fastest-growing technology for ad serving.
Ad Age: What's the integration goal? Is it to merge all the technologies into one über-network?
Ms. Clarizio: To run this as one business. Some of these products were internally developed within AOL and within Advertising.com and some were acquired through acquisition. It's a great collection of assets, and now to run it most effectively, you need to run it and operate it as one business.
So it's one sales team, one publisher-services team -- the team that works with the websites. It's one technology team, one marketing team. And I announced my senior leadership team, which falls along those same lines.
Ad Age: So you talk about integrating all these teams -- will you still have, for example, publisher-services folks dedicated to working on Quigo's behalf or Tacoda's or will each person be assigned to all of your networks?
Ms. Clarizio: Yes, we will [have people dedicated to specific networks], but there's going to be a lot tighter coordination when everyone is reporting in to same leader. And their compensation is tied to the same goals.
Ad Age: Integrating all these technologies sounds rather difficult, no?
Ms. Clarizio: It is and it isn't. We're looking across the board with everything. I've been doing this at Advertising.com for the past two years. For instance, Lightningcast, a company we acquired in spring 2006 and put under Advertising.com -- that's now fully integrated into Advertising.com. One example of that is about a month ago, we announced that AdLearn, Advertising.com's optimization technology, is now going to drive our video network, and that was really powered by Lightningcast. We integrated the Advertising.com technology into Lightningcast, and that enables us to sell video advertising on a performance basis.
Ad Age: You bring up performance, and that's Advertising.com's bread and butter. Some people have suggested Ad.com has a very different DNA from an AOL sales team. How do you get those DNAs to match up?
Ms. Clarizio: I don't think the DNAs are entirely different. We've announced we're having one sales team, and we're in the process of putting pieces together around that. I want to be able to sell everything across Platform A. The reason we're doing this, by the way, is we're hearing from big agencies and advertisers that they wanted it to be easier to work with Platform A. They were confused with having to approach different sales forces with different products; they wanted it to be easier. We're trying to respond to that and make Platform A the best it can be.
It is true that Advertising.com's sales team does sell performance advertising, but over the past few years, the Advertising.com team has also sold brand advertising across the network, and it's been a fast-growing part of the business.
Ad Age: ESPN recently said it's cutting several of the ad networks, including Advertising.com, that might have sold ads on its sites. Do you get a sense the publishers are becoming wary of your business and commoditization?
Ms. Clarizio: I don't get a sense that is happening. The goal of an ad network is to provide value to publishers and a valuable monetization effort. It is not to undercut or threaten their own sales efforts. We work closely with all sites on network to make sure we're a valuable channel, that we're not undercutting their efforts, and I think if you can do that, there's an important role ad networks play on the monetization side.
Ad Age: How committed is AOL to keeping its sales side -- Platform A -- and its portal content business together?
Ms. Clarizio: AOL is very committed to its content properties. There's no moving away from that at all.
Ad Age: You seem to have moved pretty quickly since you took the helm at Platform A. Is that your management style?
Ms. Clarizio: I've been at AOL since 1999. ... I was leading [mergers and acquisitions], and that expanded to include finance and strategy and finally operations. I think I'm a strong manager, and that's evidenced by the success we've had at Advertising.com. I know the business very, very well. I know the Advertising.com business. I know the AOL business. It's clear what we need to do, and we need to move quickly to do it. This is an intensely competitive industry. We need to move quickly to make sure we remain strong.
Ad Age: What's your outlook on the online-ad industry for 2008?
Ms. Clarizio: I think the opportunities remain very strong in this industry. It'll continue to grow. There are many, many players in this industry, many ad networks, many websites trying to sell their advertising. Over time, that number will probably get smaller. But the opportunities are strong as more advertisers shift from offline to online and advertisers continue to be interested in shifting money to media with measurable results.