America Online named Time Warner insider Michael J. Kelly yesterday to lead a revamped sales unit less than a week after former ad sales chief Lisa Brown left the company.
Kelly, the former president of global marketing at AOL parent Time Warner, was named president of AOL Networks Sales and Solutions division. He takes responsibility for ad sales from Brown, who abruptly left her post last week just eight months into the job. The company attributed her departure to health reasons, though the Wall Street Journal reported that AOL is investigating $40,000 of questionable expenses Brown filed.
Kelly is the third person in a year to take a crack at turning around AOL's flagging advertising division, following Brown and her predecessor, Robert Sherman.
Ad sales at AOL are expected to fall 35 percent in 2003. Since the dot-com meltdown, AOL has suffered as some long-term deals expired and its shrinking subscriber base and lingering ill will from agencies made it an unattractive option for advertisers.
“Due to their arrogance in the late '90s, there were a lot of people hoping for an AOL fall,” said Jeff Lanctot, vice president for media at New York agency Avenue A. “I don't think anyone wanted it to be this drastic and for this long.”
Under the reorganization, AOL's new sales division will integrate Web advertising, search and e-commerce businesses for its increasingly disparate offerings, from its dial-up service to its broadband offering to its special services for teens and Latinos. The company hopes the integration will appeal to marketers looking to tap pockets of its 25 million subscribers.
AOL recently pleased advertisers by offering more rich media advertising and segmenting its audience better. The company said it is on track to sell more advertising in 2004 than in 2003, though much of the growth can be attributed to its paid search listings partnership with Google. The abrupt departure of Brown, who promised to repair AOL's relationship with advertisers, could hurt AOL's efforts.
“They're too big of an organization to see an overnight change,” Lanctot said. “They were starting to head in the right direction, and I hope that will continue.”
Michael Barrett, who was in charge of agency relations, will serve as head of ad sales with the title of executive vice president of sales and partner marketing. AOL also named David Lebow as executive vice president in charge of inventory and Brendan Condon as senior vice president for the division's finances.
Kelly returned to Time Warner in September 2002 to help the company build its relationships with advertisers through integrated campaigns that used a number of its media properties. Prior to that, he founded America Town Network, a start-up online media company for local community information. In his previous 17-year stint at Time, Kelly served as publisher of Entertainment Weekly. Kelly will report to AOL vice chairman Ted Leonsis.
Brian Morrissey covers search marketing for DM News.com. To keep up with the latest search marketing news subscribe to our free e-mail weekly newsletter Search Engine Marketing by visiting www.dmnews.com/cgi-bin/newslettersub.cgi .