Peter Kafka

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AOL Reorgs Again, Sales Boss Jeff Levick Out

Yet another management shuffle at AOL, which has been doing this consistently since CEO Tim Armstrong arrived from Google two years ago. The newest headline: Sales chief Jeff Levick, one of Armstrong’s key initial hires, is out, replaced by his former deputy Ned Brody.

Other departures include two recent hires: Lauren Hurvitz, brought on last fall to run PR; and HR head Kathy Andreasen, who joined at the same time.

Unlike the last round of body-moving at AOL, this one doesn’t seem to be prompted by the company’s acquisition of Huffington Post; unless I’m missing something in Armstrong’s memo to the staff, published below, no power seems to be shifting to Arianna Huffington or her team.

[UPDATE: An AOL insider posits that the "streamlined GM structure" Armstrong describes in his memo is indeed reflective of Huffington's wishes, noting she "hated" the existing AOL corporate architecture which featured many middle managers.]

It’s not a shock to see Levick leave: The gripe about him from the ad sales industry is that he’s not really an ad sales guy but a brainy analytical type. The problem, according to this line of thinking, is that a huge component of the ad business, even the digital ad business, is still about charisma and a firm handshake — the kind of qualities that Armstrong uses to great effect.

The more positive spin is that Levick has helped turn around AOL’s once-decimated sales operation over a long two-year slog, and that he should feel like he accomplished quite a bit. The company’s last earnings report, in fact, contained a modest surprise, with display ads moving up four percent (overall ad revenue was still down).

But if AOL sales are finally moving in the right direction, why change things now? I just got off the phone with Armstrong, who gave a non-answer about “the opportunity in front of AOL” being so large that it compelled a move: “I feel like our job, specifically my job, is to make sure we make very good long-term decisions about what makes us strongest in the marketplace.”

From: Armstrong, Tim
Date: Mon, Jul 25, 2011 at 11:12 AM
Subject: Important Changes at AOL
To: All AOLers

AOLers –

As we continue the comeback of AOL we are focused on growth. We have a few announcements today that will make the company simpler, faster and stronger. Our strategy remains clear and consistent and our execution and operational clarity have improved. We have stabilized the foundation of the company and our future is about executing our growth strategies focused on:

1. Leading the digital content space
2. Leading the brand advertising space
3. Leading the premium video platform space
4. Leading the local content and advertising space
5. Leading the online membership services space

As we have focused our growth in this simplified product portfolio, we are now combining our advertising sales organization with our advertising network and products organization. We are not watching trends in the advertising business, we are creating them. Project Devil has traction and will help lead the brand space online. In the video space, we have gone from being out of the race to becoming one of the largest forces for digital video distribution.

The first announcement is a global structural change to our advertising business. We are promoting Ned Brody to the new position of Chief Revenue Officer and President of AOL Advertising. Ned will oversee AOL’s global O&O advertising, global network business, sales, and advertising and publishing products. There are three goals we are hoping to accomplish with Ned in this new position. The first is a unified premium strategy for advertisers and publishers. The second is consistent growth in advertising spend across all our properties and networks. The third is a more rigorous approach to advertising and publishing system design. This will allow us to connect Project Devil and our Premium Brand Formats to the O&O properties as well as the network.

In addition to our new CRO position, we are also announcing expanded leadership roles for five world-class leaders in our sales organization. Tim Castelli, Wendy MacGregor, Tim Richards, and Jim Norton will be promoted to SVP and Michael O’Connor will be promoted to VP, Head of Sales Operations. These leaders along with Don Kennedy, SVP of Advertising.com Sales, and Chris Heine, SVP of Advertising Operations will form our sales leadership team and join Ned’s management team.

As a result of this global change, Jeff Levick will be leaving AOL after a six week transition period. Jeff undertook one of the toughest jobs in the Internet space when he joined AOL. In the past two years, he developed a world-class leadership team, led the industry toward the future of premium formats for brand advertising, and helped lead a game-changing shift in perception and quality of the AOL advertising experience. Jeff is a friend to many of us and we know we will see big things from him in his future career. We have been working closely together on the design of the sales structure and we both believe it will positively impact results for our team and our customers.

The second announcement we are making is a streamlined GM structure reporting directly to me, overseeing the connection between content and monetization. The GM organization will allow us to profitably manage our investments in media and optimize the yield opportunities with traffic and revenue. We have already put the following GM leaders in place:

• AOL.com – Chris Grosso
• Huffington Post – Brian Kaminsky
• Entertainment – Kerry Trainor (e.g. Moviefone, AOL Music)
• Marketplace – Jay Kirsch (e.g., AOL Autos, Finance, and AOL Industry)
• Tech – Heather Harde (e.g., TechCrunch, Engadget)

Our third announcement is aimed at streamlining our corporate operations. Artie Minson, CFO of AOL and President of Paid Services, will now take on managing both our international planning and our Google search relationship, which is an important partnership on many levels. As part of Artie’s new responsibilities, he will be transitioning HR, Corporate Communications, and Marketing back to me.

We will be consolidating all marketing functions and the corporate communications team into a single organization run by Maureen Sullivan. Lauren Hurvitz will transition out of AOL as part of the consolidation. Kathy Andreasen is also transitioning out of the company. Lauren and Kathy have been big champions for AOL and trusted members of the management team. Sandy Mott will assume the role of interim head of HR. We will also be opening up a search for a Global Head of HR.

The future for AOL is getting brighter and we are on the path of returning AOL to growth. I care about our team and our AOL brand, our consumers and customers, and our long-term outcome – the announcements today have this at the core.

We have very clear operating plans for the second half of the year as we reviewed on the all-hands call a few weeks ago and we review detailed updates every week, and in some cases daily. We won’t be hitting the pause button this week, we’ll be on fast-forward.

I will be holding an all-hands call with the sales team today at 12:30pm ET to further address these changes and more fully address Jeff’s contribution to AOL.

We have an unprecedented opportunity everyday to positively impact consumers’ lives and our customers’ businesses. Let’s go make it happen – TA


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