Ad Execs Preparing for Miller’s Time at AOL

NEW YORK — To agency executives, Jonathan Miller, named chairman/CEO of America Online last week, is something of a mystery.

While he has e-commerce experience, Miller, 45, is a virtual unknown to the online advertising community. Previously president/CEO of USA Networks’ USA Electronic Commerce/Services and USA Broadcasting divisions, Miller has also done stints at Nickelodeon International and NBA Entertainment.

Still, agency execs, who have urged AOL to become more advertiser-friendly, seemed relieved to finally know who’s in charge. “The last couple of months have sort of been the limbo period,” said Adam Gerber, vp, director of media strategy at WPP’s Mediaedge:cia. Gerber said he is willing to give Miller time to come up with solutions that please advertisers. “They deserve a honeymoon period,” he said.

Miller’s job was most recently held by Bob Pittman, who resigned in July. Prior to that, it was held by Barry Schuler, a longtime AOL executive who now heads the newly formed corporate Digital Services Development Group.

Miller may benefit from the fact that he has neither the high public profile of Pittman nor the veteran AOL status of Schuler. Indeed, Miller’s diverse background hints at the potential for making good on the synergistic cross-platform ad promises that were Pittman’s battle cry.

He has his work cut out for him. AOL’s subscription growth, though still robust, has slowed compared with previous years, and ad and commerce revenue (AOL doesn’t break them out separately) fell by 42 percent in the second quarter compared with a year ago.

While the challenges are formidable, observers point out that AOL, even hobbled, remains a powerhouse. Sharon Katz, vp, director of media at interactive agency Modem Media, feels the momentum is already building.

“Everyone wants them to succeed,” she said. “They have a mission, and they’re not going to let anything get in the way of that.”