Jeff Levick, AOL's new ad boss, knows that he's about to test the patience of the digital media buying community.
On Thursday (Apr. 30) AOL jolted the industry by installing Levick as its new president, global advertising and strategy, while dumping Platform-A president Greg Coleman after he was on the job for just two months. Now, Levick's faced with reaching out to key clients about his vision for the future of AOL's ad strategy—after those clients likely just heard a similar spiel from Coleman.
"I'm hoping our customers will be empathetic," he said. "Asking our customers to have the same conversation over and over again, you’d prefer not to do that."
Still, he's banking on most brands' understanding that his boss, chairman and CEO Tim Armstrong—who was hired weeks after Coleman—needed to build his own team as he looks to reshape the troubled Time Warner portal. "The difference is this is not a change here or there," said Levick. "This comes directly from Tim. It’s about building a team for the future. We're going to be there for the long term and I think advertisers understand that."
Advertisers have surely noticed that AOL has just turned over its operations and sales efforts to two search guys, as both Levick and Armstrong come straight from Google. And some might wonder whether the two executives bring the right kind of experience to the content-rich/ad network-focused hybrid that is AOL? "Advertisers know what we bring…in terms of a focus on marketers' business," said Levick. "Our experience is in customers. At Google we built a sales organization around customers' industries."
However, under Coleman, AOL has recently reorganized its sales group to make it more centralized, and less focused on selling various properties or categories. Does Levick plan to undo some of those changes? "I'm not as familiar with how things were structured," he acknowledged. "I can't tell you [what's next]."
Instead, Levick emphasized that Google and AOL are different companies, with different challenges. AOL's most immediate challenge may be its complexity, which makes for a cloudy brand image.
"I want to make it easier for advertisers to understand the value we bring and make it easier to buy," said Levick. "The one challenge we face is to take all these assets and make it easier to put n the hand of our partners."
Thus, when Levick finally comes on board in a few weeks, job one will be "listening to your customers and focusing your relationships. We are trying to focus on the next new economy and help them prepare for that. I have a lot to learn."