Kara Swisher

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Yahoo Attempts to Poach AOL Ad Chief Brody to Lead U.S. Sales, Setting Up Possible Legal Battle

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In an unusual hiring for a top advertising role, Yahoo has made an offer to AOL’s top sales exec Ned Brody to take over as head of its North American sales, according to sources close to the situation.

Brody has already resigned from AOL, said sources, where he headed AOL Networks — which used to be called Advertising.com. It hawks premium display, video and mobile network ads for the Web portal.

It is not clear if he has officially taken the job at Yahoo, but it seems likely given the terms, which includes a lucrative salary. More interestingly, sources said that because Brody has a 12-month, non-compete agreement with AOL that the Silicon Valley Internet giant — as part of the deal it is close to striking with him — has offered to pay him to not work in that period.

Sources close to both companies said AOL has already informed Yahoo that it might face a legal challenge to hiring Brody, because of the way it might attempt to subvert the 12-month non-compete. Because of the big Yahoo offer, AOL did not make a counter-offer to keep him.

These kinds of fights over ad sales execs have happened before. Microsoft mulled a legal challenge of Facebook’s hiring of Carolyn Everson, for example, a tense battle that was later settled.

The attractive terms offered to Brody underscore the difficulty that Yahoo has had in filling the slot, which has been open since former U.S. head Ross Levinsohn left the company a year ago. Top ad duties have been shared by Mark Ellis, VP of North American sales and global partnerships (as well as a former AOLer) and Peter Foster, who is VP of solutions development and MMD sales.

It is not clear if either has been considered for the position (or, more to the point, if they want it). The job, as described in the talent search document I had previously obtained, will report to COO Henrique De Castro and will be as SVP of its Americas unit.

As I wrote of the key job:

Since U.S. ads keep the lights on for now, a top sales exec is crucial. The Americas job was most recently held by Ross Levinsohn, who lost his bid to be CEO to Mayer. And well-regarded ad head Michael Barrett left after De Castro arrived (let’s say bygones and leave it at that).

While De Castro has talked to a number of high-profile Internet execs, none have bitten as yet, for a search that is being conducted by Spencer Stuart.

As described in the memo I obtained, which you can read below in its entirety, the job will require some big shoes to fill. “S/he will be expected to be the ‘voice’ of the Americas region, serving as bridge between the region and the corporate teams,” according to the job description. “Additionally he/she will be a thought leader within the company and a well-respected industry leader as Yahoo!’s primary externally facing advertising and media executive.”

Many have been pinged for the job by Spencer Stuart’s Jim Citrin, who has been conducting the search, including former Yahoo sales exec Rich Riley and former Google sales exec Penry Price.

It’s an important role, since U.S. ads make up a huge part of Yahoo’s revenue. And as Ad Age’s Jason Del Rey recently (and correctly) reported, the disinterest on the part of CEO Marissa Mayer to ad agencies and marketers in favor of focusing on product innovation issues (also important) has taken its toll.

“I think that [Mayer's] disengagement from the sales side is an issue, as it implies that the top of the org is only so interested in the only source of revenue,” said one top ad exec to me today.

De Castro has tried to fill the gap, although he has had less strong ties in the ad community, too. That means Yahoo might not have a year to wait for Brody, who has also served as AOL’s Chief Revenue Officer, COO of media and advertising and as EVP of paid services. He also started a commerce company called ARPU.com (now SnappCloud) and was CFO of early search company Looksmart.

On his About.me page today, Brody seems pretty happy with AOL, with a note under the title, “Living the Dream”: “Right now, I am extremely happily employed as the CEO of AOL Networks. I get to see the global turnaround of an historic property from the front line.”

(To be fair, if he subs in Yahoo for AOL, it will probably read just the same.)

I have tried to contact Brody and am awaiting comment from AOL about his status. Yahoo declined comment.


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