Microsoft’s Everson Looks to Clarify Sales Mission

The message coming out of Microsoft Advertising these days might be best summed up as “We’ve got Xbox, and you don’t.”

While those words weren’t uttered exactly during the company’s third annual Digital Showcase on June 10, the phrase “three screens” was echoed repeatedly. Executives touted the software giant’s ability to execute campaigns on MSN, mobile platforms and Xbox Live — the company’s Web-based entertainment hub for Xbox 360 gamers.

Indeed, even as portal rivals AOL and Yahoo hire more editorial talent and emphasize “voice,” Microsoft downplayed programming and ad opportunities last week to talk up its device ubiquity. To drive home that point, the company even staged a mock mini-Broadway play featuring a Bing-searching mom, a Blackberry-wielding dad and a hoodie-clad teen who prefers watching his favorite shows via Xbox rather than TV.

Microsoft’s just-hired global ad chief Carolyn Everson (pictured) wasn’t at the showcase — she starts June 21 — but she plans to hammer home the three-screen strategy. “My priority is to be really clear about what Microsoft Advertising is in the marketplace,” said Everson, who just joined from MTV Networks, where she was COO and evp of ad sales. “I think depending on whom you talk to, Microsoft means [different things]. We have an incredible amount of assets…but marketers don’t just want to be sold a bunch of different products and services.”

Buyers ascribe great value to Microsoft’s multiscreened advantage but wonder about Everson’s ability to change the corporate culture. “Microsoft is a tech company, not a marketing company, and that is something that they continue to try and reconcile,” said Sarah Baehr, associate partner, Rosetta. “They’ve had high-profile people before running sales. It’s hard to say if they are going to be able to change the organization if it’s not really supported from the most senior level.”

Still, Xbox keeps Microsoft in a lot of conversations. “It is definitely a differentiator and definitely a cool factor,” added Baehr.

Content wasn’t completely ignored last week. The company highlighted its new branded entertainment series Race to the Moment, sponsored by Benadryl as well as Glo, the well-received, female-targeted Web magazine produced by BermanBraun.

Expect lots more, insisted Everson: “My DNA is all about content. If anything, I see that increasing. I don’t think we’ve been out touting the custom programs enough, and they are absolutely essential to marketers. And our biggest success factor [with content] is when we can take it to a number of different screens.”