Greg Coleman Connects AOL’s Dots

Those who thought that AOL’s recent hire of Greg Coleman as president of Platform-A meant the company was ditching its technology-centric, mega ad network persona and shifting all the way back to a traditional brand sales machine, think again.
Over the past seven weeks since he was hired (during which time his boss has already been replaced), Coleman has aggressively made his imprint on AOL’s sales organization, dropping several divisions, firing some executives and promoting others. Over the next several weeks, expect more changes as Coleman, who replaced former Platform-A president Lynda Clarizio back in February, radically shifts the company’s strategy away from that of the previous administration, with the blessing of new AOL CEO Tim Armstrong.
Specifically, Coleman is planning to centralize AOL’s ad sales efforts so that every seller is versed in selling all of Platform-A’s performance-based assets, as well as AOL’s owned-and-operated properties. That’s despite an admitted risk that Platform-A, particularly, has the potential to devalue AOL’s own sites, which include the growing number of minibrands grouped under the header MediaGlow. In addition, Coleman is planning to bring on more senior talent, including talent from the traditional media world (as well as a seasoned research exec) to bolster AOL’s marketplace clout.
With MediaGlow, Coleman plans to have his team bundle the company’s 70-plus properties and sell audiences, rather than emphasizing individual brands as was done in the recent past. (He’s already broken up an internal group of 22 staffers who were focused almost solely on pitching MediaGlow brands to AOL’s sales execs.) That bundling tactic also carries risk, as AOL is still trying to establish premium value for many of these fledgling properties (see sidebar on following page).
Many media buyers were betting that Coleman would split AOL sales down the middle, first creating a smaller “inside” sales group that focused on targeting smaller, pure performance advertisers. Then Coleman, former evp of global sales at Yahoo, who also logged sales stints at Women’s Day and Reader’s Digest, would tap into his vast Rolodex and start lunching with the Cokes and McDonald’s, focusing entirely on selling AOL’s top sites to Fortune 1000 advertisers. Coleman is quick to dismiss this anti-technology rep, pointing out that at Yahoo he helped integrate the display and search sides of the business.
In fact, he’s convinced that AOL’s strength lies in its ability to answer advertisers’ every need by using data and technology, and that the problem with the Platform-A structure is that it never delivered what it promised. “We had all the assets, but the full integration never happened,” says Coleman, in an exclusive interview with Mediaweek. “When I got here, I asked for a work plan [on integration] and there was none. We didn’t have any integration, we had a smush. They did [however] create something that is really valuable. Most of my time is going to be spent on actualizing the vision.”

Many in the online ad world believe that AOL lost that vision when it bet heavily on the ad network business with the formation of Platform-A (which includes the assets of, Tacoda, Third Screen Media and others) in ’07. “It was such a quantum shift,” says Amanda Richman, svp, director of digital, MediaVest USA. “AOL lost some of its strength in creating content and experiences. Content was always part of their DNA.”
Coleman doesn’t deny that AOL’s image has become tarnished. “It is safe to say that there were a series of management changes over the last few years that created some instability, and the strategy du jour  knocked us out of the game to a large degree.”