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AOL Taps Yahoo Vet Coleman as Platform-A President

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AOL has turned to a more traditional online sales executive to help revive its flagging advertising efforts, installing Yahoo veteran Greg Coleman as the new president of Platform-A, replacing Lynda Clarizio, the former head of Advertising.com.

Coleman’s hiring makes him the third head of Platform-A in less than two years. Clarizio’s own tenure in the position lasted less than a year, as the former law partner had replaced onetime Tacoda CEO Curt Viebranz last March--after he had been on the job just five months.

Based on this move, it appears as thought AOL is turning away from the technology-centric, ad network side of the business for its leadership needs, and instead going with an executive who is well-versed in selling to traditional brands.

Coleman, who was most recently president and CEO of the startup NetSeer, was executive vp of global sales at Yahoo from 2001 to 2007, a period when the company was seen by many as the premiere online ad seller. His much-respected sales team included former chief advertising sales officer Wenda Harris Millard, now the co-CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Prior to working at Yahoo, Coleman spent most of his career in print, including running all Reader's Digest Association’s magazine businesses.

Some in the buying community didn’t see Clarizio’s ouster coming. “I’m shocked to be honest,” said Edward Montes, executive vp, managing director Havas Digital. “I was under the impression that things seemed to be going pretty well [at Platform-A]. I have nothing but good things to say about Lynda.”

However, Montes heaped praise upon Coleman, predicting that he’ll attract both sales talent and advertisers to AOL. “He’s a leader, a rah-rah guy who the troops love to follow. He’ll bring in his brand guys who have lots of contacts on the street.”

AOL did not say where Clarizio is headed next, but did credit her with helping integrate the various businesses that make up Platform-A over the past year. “Lynda has helped us realize the vision for Platform-A as the world’s largest, unified display advertising platform with the most comprehensive suite of marketing solutions,” said Randy Falco, AOL Chairman and CEO.  “We are enormously grateful for her work and success.”

But clearly AOL is tasking Coleman, who will report to AOL president and COO Ron Grant, with reaching out to advertisers who have walked away from the Time Warner portal. Despite launching a slew of successful new properties and demonstrating consistent traffic growth, AOL’s ad revenue has declined even as the online ad industry has grown.

According to a recent JP Morgan estimate, AOL’s ad revenue declined 18 percent in 2008. Some buyers have speculated that under the Platform-A structure AOL is able to sell more avails than in the past, but it may also dilute its more premium inventory by bundling it with non-premium impressions.

Premium inventory, along premium advertisers, appear to be the focus going forward. “Greg’s a seasoned sales pro who understands that online brand building is the next frontier in digital advertising, and that whoever can deliver marketers measurably improved branding online will be positioned for long-term success,” said Falco.