AOL Networks CEO Talks Mobile and How He Landed His New Gig

Q&A with Bob Lord


Who Bob Lord

Age 50

New gig CEO of AOL Networks

Old gig CEO of Razorfish

What drew you from the agency side to a media company?

I actually have an engineering and a technical background, and I spent the beginning part of my career coding and programming robots on factory floors. So technology has always been in my DNA, and I still had that yearning to get back into the technology business.

So in some ways going to the technology side of a media company is a return to your roots.

It feels really good, I have to tell you. It feels fantastic to be talking about road maps and release dates and agile methodology.

A lot of people still don’t understand programmatic advertising. Can you put it in layman’s terms?

It’s automating the mundane activities of matching audiences with inventory. So you have an audience that a marketer wants to get to. You have places that they visit, whether it’s on the Web, mobile or video. And you want to match those audiences up with those advertisers and placements. And today there’s a lot of arms and legs that have to facilitate that process. Through our ad-learning and other technologies, we have a way of automating that very efficiently and instantaneously.

What’s the thinking behind AOL’s programmatic upfront?

It’s a bit of a play on a partnership. We’re going to work together to get your marketing results done, more than just serving an ad.

How did [AOL CEO] Tim Armstrong recruit you?

The dirty little secret is, Tim and I have known each other for a very long time. He called me up one Saturday and just said, “Look, I need someone to run AOL Networks.” And I said, “Well, Tim, I’d love to come talk to you about it.” And think of this need for me to get back into technology. So it all seemed to work out.

What’s holding back mobile advertising?

People have always thought of mobile advertising as an add-on versus just integrating into another device. And I think with smartphones, it’s irrelevant now where the ad is being displayed. You have to not think about it as a separate channel anymore. It just has to be integrated into, “What’s the consumer utility and the consumer experience that somebody’s going through?” Mobile is one component of the consumer experience. As an advertiser, you have to think through all of that.

If you weren’t working in media and advertising, what would you be doing?

I know that I would love to use technology in a way to help a worldwide problem somehow. That sounds a little lofty, but how do you democratize the level of services to people through technology?

Was there a time as a child when you became obsessed with technology?

When I was growing up, it was much more mechanical. I was so into cars. I was in the era where we went from carburetors to fuel injection. My dad and I would rebuild carburetors. And when fuel injection came in, it was like, “Shit, I don’t need a carburetor anymore. It’s doing it better than I could ever do it.” That actually got me interested in engineering.

How old were you?

Like 12, 13—it was in the ‘70s. I had a 1969 GTO Le Mans. It was awesome. We played around with that car all the time, took it apart, rebuilt it. It was a lot of fun. 

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