AOL Loses Ad Tech Head Ned Brody in Portal Tug of War

Exec reportedly being courted by Yahoo

AOL has lost the leader of its business’s biggest bright spot. The company confirmed on Thursday that Ned Brody, who ran AOL’s ad tech arm AOL Networks, has resigned. All Things D first reported Brody’s departure on Wednesday and that Yahoo is trying to hire him to run North American sales, which AOL wouldn’t comment on. Yahoo declined to comment.

The loss of Brody is a significant blow to AOL as CEO Tim Armstrong navigates its resurrection. Not only does it follow the recently announced departure of COO Arthur Minson, who has been given much credit for AOL’s recent upswing, but Brody—previously AOL's chief revenue officer before becoming CEO of its Group that rebranded as AOL Networks in February—may be the AOL exec third-most deserving of credit behind Armstrong and Minson.

While AOL’s Membership Group, which includes the traditional Internet access business and other services, remains its largest revenue-driver, followed by its Brand Group of content properties, those two businesses have either trended downward or stagnated over the past couple of years. On the other hand, AOL Networks has seen its yearly revenues rocket, growing by 15 percent year-over-year in 2011 and then by 31 percent year-over-year in 2012. The division still trails the Membership and Brand Groups but stands to overtake at least one if not both of those businesses this year, assuming the trends continue.

So why would Brody leave? That remains to be known, though Yahoo is reportedly dangling a sizeable carrot. Sources, who asked to not be named because of business relationships with AOL and Yahoo, said that AOL and Yahoo are on opposing trajectories. Even though AOL appears to be on an upswing, its properties only nab about half as many monthly unique visitors as Yahoo’s.

Meanwhile, Yahoo is still riding the high tide of Marissa Mayer’s hire and potential, despite frustrations among media buyers feeling left out, whereas AOL faces daunting competition from the likes of Google and Adobe in erecting an end-to-end ad tech stack. AOL added to that stack earlier this week with the launch of supply-side platform Marketplace by Adtech, but sources said the demand-side platform AdLearn Open Platform launched last spring has yet to gain traction. If Brody were to join Yahoo from AOL, it would underscore the divide between the two companies.

Here’s the full memo Armstrong sent to company employees:

AOLers –

With growth comes change and I wanted to share some news with you today.

First, Ned Brody has resigned to pursue other opportunities and I have stepped in as acting head of AOL Networks. I am just coming off an incredible few days at ad:tech San Francisco where in addition to the keynote, I spent time with the AOL Networks team and in client meetings.  We truly have a stellar group of strong operators within AOL Networks, an extremely strong product organization and a strategy that is really paying off in the marketplace. Now with the launch of MARKETPLACE, we can offer solutions across the entire digital advertising ecosystem. The strategy will remain the same and we will continue to look for ways to quicken the pace of its execution.

Change is natural for large organizations like AOL and we are no strangers to change. It has made us stronger and has led us to the significantly improved operating performance we have reported in recent quarters. We have strong leaders, strong teams, and a strong plan.

As many of you know, we've been conducting a search for a head of communications. I'm pleased to announce that we have hired Peter Land as Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications.  Peter, who officially joins us April 22, will develop and oversee our global external and internal corporate communications strategies and work with each of the brands to drive their respective communications efforts.  He’ll be a member of the executive team and report into me.

Peter joins AOL from PepsiCo, where he served in a number of senior leadership roles – most recently overseeing global media strategy, financial communications and issues management. He joined PepsiCo in 2009 to oversee communications for the PepsiCo America Beverages division and manage the company’s corporate digital strategy.

Peter brings more than 25 years of senior level communications experience working for several of the world’s leading media companies and brands.  He has an ability to navigate the dynamic media and digital environments, develop and manage teams worldwide and work strategically and effectively in both the consumer marketing and corporate reputation arenas, and he will be a critically important member of our leadership team.

I have spent a lot of time with Peter already, and he’s excited to join the team.  His experience will align well with our brand company mission. He comes with world-class brand experience, and he has managed multi-faceted, multi-stakeholder efforts on a global stage, which will become more and more important to AOL as we continue to grow.

Before joining PepsiCo, Peter was a global managing director of Edelman. Earlier in his career, he was Director of Marketing Communications for the NBA and worked for Kraft Foods in London as Director of European Promotions, among other roles.

Let’s thank Ned for his contributions and welcome Peter to the team.

– TA