Times have changed. Today, Mr. Nardone is director of media and research services for Modem Media, the hot Westport, Conn., interactive shop. With a staff of 20, one of the largest Internet media departments around, Mr. Nardone controls more than $12 million in Internet ad budgets, accounting for as much as 10% of the medium's total spending.
His clients, including AT&T Corp. and Delta Air Lines, are some of the most active players on the Web. Under his direction, Modem this year has begun offering its expertise in buying and planning Web ads to media-only clients. His efforts have netted new business from Reader's Digest and iVillage, a new-media content developer whose sites include Parent Soup.
"I've always loved building things from scratch," Mr. Nardone says during a short interview squeezed into what has become a regular 80-hour workweek. As one of the early players in the Web media market, he has had to do just that.
As director of consumer products at Modem, a post he took in December 1994 after a one-year stint in account management at Ogilvy & Mather, New York, and several years in product management with Richardson-Vicks and PepsiCo, he completed one of the first major Web media buys. He sent out wave after wave of e-mail messages to sites, begging them to take advertising from his client, Coors Brewing Co. Most of the sites didn't even know what an ad banner was, let alone why they should take advertising.
Nothing in his background had prepared him for that moment; he had only recently learned about AOL, while working on a project with Modem Media while still at Pepsi. The Internet was still virgin territory for marketers.
"I had to figure out what was a fair price to pay these people," Mr. Nardone says. "When it got down to making the deals, I realized I had never negotiated a media deal in my life, and there was no one at Modem who could do it."
Since then, Mr. Nardone has become a lead spokesman for the Web's biggest issue for marketers: proving its value as a marketing tool.
"Everybody focused on this thing has been running around to build Web sites," he says. "Nobody is investing in the research to quantify and build this thing."
As a Web proponent, it's his job every day to convince clients that the Internet has the same ability as traditional media to achieve marketing objectives. But as a former product manager, he concedes "there ain't one shred of empirical evidence to support that contention."
His job going forward: to push Web media companies to prove their viability as a marketing medium, in concrete terms that any marketer can understand.
"I don't think of myself as any kind of role model in the industry. I'm just a guy doing his job, and I have strong opinions."
Media companies are more than willing to listen.
"I trust his opinion," says Leslie Laredo, VP-marketing with Interactive Media Sales, a leading Web rep firm. "He's someone who gets it. His people are tough negotiators, but that's good."