AOL

Being Grateful.


It’s a short week at the close of a busy, hectic year.  It’s also the time when many of us take our last breath before the sprint to make Q4 numbers while simultaneously shopping for the holidays.  So during this all too short breather, a quick note about the people, ideas and values for which I’m really grateful. Thanks go out to…

The 3-4 sales people in every workshop I teach who are truly dedicated to the profession of media sales.  I recognize your ambition and commitment, and they inspire me to keep doing what I do.

Those who read, comment on and forward The Drift to others in their companies.  Because of you, meeting this weekly deadline has become something I look forward to.

Ad:tech and the past recipients of the Industry Achievement Award.  To be recognized by such an amazing group last spring was humbling and inspiring.  I feel like it’s something I have to continue to live up to in the years ahead.

My wife Sharon and my daughters, Lucy and Madeline.  I’m grateful that such amazing women choose to keep me around so that I can see  the great things you each do for the world.

The people at iMedia, ad:tech, the IAB, AdMonsters, Evidon and Business Insider who’ve all given me the chance to speak or moderate at their events this year.  I hope everyone who ascends your stages feels the same gratitude and commitment that I do.

Enduring, enriching friendships with people like Wenda Harris Millard, Scot McLernon, John Durham, Dave Morgan, Larry Kramer, Rick Parkhill, Tom Deierlein, Charlie Thomas and Mark McLaughlin.  Through inspiration, support  and advice, you’ve all contributed so much to what I do.

The advisors who continue to guide The Seller Forum into its tenth year, and the sponsors — Collective/Amp, PubMatic and Mojiva — who continue their commitment to this unique and valuable environment.

Tamara Clarke and Christina Ross who work hard every day making sure the experience of working with Upstream Group continues to be a great one.  None of this would work without you.

All the companies who’ve been our customers this year  — for training workshops, Seller Forum events, Drift sponsorships, consulting and more.  33 Across, A&E, About.com, AccuWeather, Adap.tv, Adara Media, Adconion, Adobe, AdoTube, ad:tech, Amazon, AOL, AT&T AdWorks, BabyCenter, bizjournals, Bizo, Blue Kai, Bonnier Corp., Brand.net, Burda, Burst Media, Business Insider, Buysight, BuzzLogic, Cars.com, CBS, Centro, Collective, Comcast Interactive, comScore, Condé Nast, ContextWeb (PulsePoint), D&B Digital, deviantART, Discovery Communications, Disney, DMG WorldMedia, eHarmony, ESPN, Everyday Health, eXelate, Facebook, Fairchild, FOX News, FOX Sports, Gawker, Google, Grab Networks, Halogen, Healthline, Hearst Digital Media, IAB, IGN Entertainment, iMedia, InflectionPointMedia, Interclick, ITN Digital, Jingle Networks, Jumpstart Automotive, Kontera, Krux Digital, Lotame, LucidMedia, Martini Media, Meebo, Meredith, Microsoft, Mojiva, Monster Media Networks, Move, Inc., MTV, MyWebGrocer, Nature Publishing Group, Navteq, NBC Universal, NCC Media, The New York Times, Newspaper National Network, Orbitz, PubMatic, quadrantONE, Quantcast, Reader’s Digest, Remedy Health Media, Resonate, RMM Online, RTL Netherlands, Seeking Alpha, Sojern, Sugar Inc., TechMediaNetwork, The Daily, Hollywood Reporter, Weather Channel, TheStreet.com, Thomson Reuters, Travel Ad Network (Travora), Tremor Video, Triad Digital, Turner, TVGuide, Us Magazine, Undertone, Upromise Inc., Vertical Acuity, Washington Post, Weatherbug, WebMD, WhitePages.com, Yahoo! and YuMe.

And last but not least, I’m grateful that none of this is even close to being finished.  That there are so many ideas yet to be conceived, so many mysteries yet to be framed, so much of the future left to be invented.  Here’s to being grateful for what this year has brought us, and to remaining excited about what the years ahead will offer.  Happy Thanksgiving.


AOL’s Moment: A Tale of Two Outcomes


Since the first news alert hit my in-box on Monday morning I’ve been trying to decide how I feel about the acquisition of Huffington Post by AOL.   I’ve come down squarely on undecided:  there are at least two very clear, very different outcomes possible.

One justification for the deal (which reportedly cost AOL nearly half of its cash) is that it will create a whole lot more page views that AOL’s sales team can then monetize.  As I said in this space back in June, simply growing page views is a flawed strategy.  Even though there’s been much reporting of AOL’s audience attrition with the evacuation of dial up customers, I don’t believe that scale is what truly matters here.  If AOL simply applies the same advertising-based monetization strategies to a new slice of inventory, then this ends up being a $350 million search optimization deal.

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by Krux Digital, which gives websites a platform to safeguard, manage, and make responsible use of consumer data signatures across multiple devices, sources, and formats. Find out how.

On the other hand, Huffington Post is also valued for the strategy and style with which it aggregates content and generates outsized social media impact.  Let’s call this the “Arianna’s got it figured out” scenario.  If Tim Armstrong really hands her the keys — and if she can get the car running — AOL may become a lean, mean content machine, generating the content that the web ends up talking about, forwarding, rating, tweeting.  If you believe “all media will be social” then you like this approach.  In this scenario, AOL actually does “reinvent” journalism for the digital age (or at least begins deploying its replacement).

Tim may have used the first scenario to justify the deal to investors, but the second is the one that will not only save AOL but give it the chance to once again be a leader in marketing.  But nothing in this deal will do any good at all if…..

  • AOL’s vision is limited to “advertising” revenue.  No brand is lying awake because there are too few places to advertise. The future is about spawning marketing services, getting ever closer to brands and businesses.  As it resets its editorial voice, AOL must also rebuild itself as a business platform.
  • The dead-enders end up winning.  Looking back across the history of M&A at AOL, you can’t say this is a company that’s been able to extract value from what it buys.  Is Arianna Huffington the visionary that breaks the cycle?  Or does she get swallowed up in the same black hole of bureaucracy and corporate inertia that’s driven out so many before her?

Let me be clear:  I’m pulling for AOL, for Tim Armstrong, for Arianna Huffington.   I’m applauding Tim and his regime for their willingness to make a big bet.  But now it’s time to burn the ships and leave absolutely no room for retreat.  If this works, its one of the greatest turnarounds ever, spawning perhaps the web’s first truly great content play.  AOL, this is indeed your moment.