AOL looks within to stop flow of red ink

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In a bid to stem its losses, AOL Time Warner Inc. is forming a new group to foster cooperation between its media units.

The global marketing solutions group will promote cross-marketing efforts and the sharing of sales leads among the various units of AOL Time Warner, which lost $734 million in its most recent quarter.

Ever since its merger was consummated in January, b-to-b industry watchers have questioned whether AOL Time Warner can move beyond its consumer-centric focus to become a first-rate b-to-b marketing vehicle. The new group’s creation did little to change the perception of the company, especially with regard to small businesses, a demographic it has pursued.

"Its going to have very little impact in business-to-business at this stage," said Whit Andrews, research director at Gartner Inc. "Its not perceived as a marketer to small businesses. Its difficult to see how this will change in a cross-channel fashion."

Consumer committed

While AOL Time Warners focus on consumer fare is certaincoverage of Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, horoscopes and music guides are standard home page fareits commitment to b-to-b has been less ardent, Andrews said. "Theyve decided to pursue enterprises over the years, and have pulled back," he said, citing examples such as AOL Time Warners short-lived corporate hosting program.

Myer Berlow, head of the global marketing solutions group and former president for worldwide interactive marketing, was on vacation at press time and unavailable for comment. Wendy Goldberg, a spokeswoman, said b-to-b marketers would have much to gain from the groups creation.

"We have an extremely broad range of b-to-b propositions, like Netscape, which has a business exchange, and CompuServe, which has a professional audience, and magazines like Fortune," she said.

The new group will also work with AOL Time Warners co-marketing partners, including b-to-b small-business heavyweights Bank of America Corp., eBay Inc. and Compaq Computer Corp.

"All of Myers time is meant to put this together," Goldberg said. Certainly, selecting Berlow to lead the group indicates the seriousness with which AOL Time Warner is taking it. Berlow is a well-respected, 25-year marketing vet with experience at ad giants including McCann-Erickson.

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