Understanding the Consumer to Gain Market Share

Ask.com CEO Jim Safka Sees Plenty of Room in Search to Grow IAC's 'Flagship' Site

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The new CEO of Ask.com isn't afraid of a little pressure -- and he knows that's what he'll have helming the face of the new ad-supported IAC. Jim Safka, the former CEO of Match.com and, most recently, head of IAC's Primal Ventures, has been handed the reins to the No. 4 search engine and will be responsible for upping it market share from its current 4.6% piece of the pie, according to ComScore.
Ask.com CEO Jim Safka
Ask.com CEO Jim Safka

Mr. Safka is no stranger to marketing; he has held a number of marketing positions at E-Trade, Intuit and the consumer package goods space. While he knows growing share in his new role won't be easy, there is a bit of good news. "The shelf space at grocery stores isn't growing, the search market is," he said.

Ad Age: What is Ask.com's biggest strength/weakness in the marketplace?

Jim Safka: Coming from a challenger position it is really exciting going up against the bigger guys. We're perfectly positioned because it's got enough scale and enough resources to create some real value in the marketplace, but it's not so big that it's too difficult to maneuver and create great innovation. When I worked at AT&T Wireless, there were 33,000 people and at Match there were 400 people. I love the scale of the Ask business. It's just big enough and just small enough to be agile and out maneuver bigger players.

Ad Age: You guys have actually embarked on lots of consumer marketing over the past year.

Mr. Safka: I'm really lucky to inherit the product and the team I get to work with at Ask because the product is world class. You look at how it's been reviewed across the board and it often comes out on top. At the end of the day what it takes to be successful and grow market share and revenue is part logical and part emotional. One important thing is to make this an iconic brand that connects with hearts and minds of certain set of consumers. That's part of what I'm trying to figure out.

Ad Age: You guys have used a variety of agencies throughout the past year. Do you see any of that changing?

Mr. Safka: My first order of business is to focus on the people. I need to understand who are the Ask customers and look for where the opportunities are. And then we'll sit down in 60 and 90 days to go through a more tactical plan of action. There's a lot of people using Ask today, and I want to find out who they are.

Ad Age: For a while, IAC had described Ask as the "glue" for the rest of the company. Is that strategy still holding true?

Mr. Safka: When the dust settles on IAC, Ask will be the flagship brand of the new IAC. It's going to be very important for us to grow this business, the number of customers and their satisfaction and grow revenue and profits. If there's a spotlight on the business now it'll be even greater once dust settles on the reconstitution of IAC.

Ad Age: The flagship brand of the new IAC -- that's a lot of pressure.

Mr. Safka: Every once in awhile you get a challenge of a lifetime. This is one of the biggest categories of our lifetime. ... There's a lot of upside. I see this as a big challenge but a huge opportunity.
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