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executive decision

Can AOL Call Itself the Brand Company Without a Chief Marketing Officer?

Posted by Sheila Shayon on December 3, 2012 04:05 PM

AOL Inc. calls itself the "brand company, committed to continuously innovating, growing, and investing in brands and experiences that inform, entertain, and connect the world." Now the brand company is without a branding head.

Jolie Hunt, AOL's chief marketing officer and communications head since July, is leaving the company less than five months after being hired away from head marketer at Thomson Reuters. According to the Wall Street Journal, the travel-loving Hunt's departure comes one week before AOL unveils a $10 million branding campaign and marks the fourth top AOL marketing and communications executive to leave this year. The company announced back in February its intention to launch a branding campaign to get consumers to care about AOL again.

Hunt — who was responsible for "AOL’s global communications strategy, including internal and external communications; social media; corporate social responsibility and cause related initiatives; corporate events (and) AOL’s global brand development, partnerships and consumer marketing initiatives" — had previously served as SVP and global head of brand for Thomson Reuters.

In June, Maureen Sullivan, the SVP of brand, marketing and communications, was reassigned to GM of women's content and lifestyle brands. Instead of of filling the CMO role, AOL is now looking for a new chief communications officer, as AOL CEO Tim Armstrong told Ad Age today. Hunt's departure and the restructuring have yet to be announced, meanwhile; the only exec announcement was a new business development head for three of its tech properties.

Armstrong told Ad Age that the CMO position is being eliminated as part of a corporate restructuring, as the the company looks to decentralize marketing, pushing B2B dollars and consumer traffic to individual digital publications and products as part of a new corporate structure unveiled earlier this year: the Brand Group (content such as Huffington Post and TechCrunch), Membership and the Advertising.com Group, preparing for more granular financial reporting structure next year. AOL's Advertising.com group has been pitching other brands such as the New York Times and Nissan on using its online ad formats and videos to drive engagement.

"We had never aggregated the micro and macro [marketing] budgets together," Armstrong stated. "When we kicked off the planning in September, [we realized] we were spending more marketing than we were getting credit for an AOL brand perspective." Going forward, AOL will increase marketing dollars for MapQuest, Moviefone, AOL internet services and Engadget with ongoing organizational changes now clearly part of Armstrong's modus operandi. "Our history has been making tough changes," Armstrong added. "We always try to do what we think long term will make us the most successful."

The web relaunched its identity in 2009, inviting artists to reinterpret its logo as it changed from AOL to "Aol." with the period — which nobody uses, by the way — as it sought to shake off the vestiges of its failed merger with Time Warner. So we can't wait to see what its new $10 million branding campaign looks like.

At least AOL Inc. stock has been on something of “a sugar high at the moment, thanks to a fat one-time dividend the company promised shareholders after it sold patents for $1 billion,” reports the San Francisco Chronicle, but, “this sugar high is already coming to an end.” Analyst Ken Sena of Evercore just put out a note reducing his price target for AOL from $39 to $34, "reducing target ex-dividend."

The company recently reported higher-than-expected revenue and profit on the strongest advertising growth the company has seen in seven years, with subscription revenue at its lowest rate of decline since 2006. Armstrong told Reuters that his “main focus next year will be on advertising and video, which tend to command higher prices from marketers.” "Things look great," RBC Capital Markets analyst Andre Sequin commented. "This company is continuing to make steps in the right direction."

Domestic display advertising in high profile acquisitions like the Huffington Post fell 3% percent in Q3. "We weren't exactly 100 percent drilled and focused on the advertising strategy the first half of the year. But we are now," Armstrong said on a call with analysts. "I think overall, what you're going to see is an operational improvement around advertising as we get into 2013."


Aoli United States says:

AOL still evokes dial-up web access and those packaged disks for many, so a hard brand to market as it's considered dated and passé .... Which kind of begs the need for a CMO, no?

December 4, 2012 01:01 AM #

Dana United States says:

Yes, AOL does need a CMO, but Armstrong quickly realized that Ms.Hunt is not the gal. She's a party planner at best, not CMO material.

December 4, 2012 06:53 AM #

Slow hand United States says:

AOL is so irrelevant, no CMO can fix that brand
In addition, we the consumer make or break a brand, we own it and we decide to prefer or ditch a brand
AOL is a ditched brand

December 4, 2012 08:20 AM #

AolWhut United States says:

Jolie Hunt seemed to be turning around the chaos that was put in place under Maureen Sullivan, the glorified Chief of Staff. Seemed like Armstrong didn't like having someone in charge who actually knew how to do the job. AOL will continue to sink because they only promote the non-threatening, and underqualified. They've restructured twice this year, and every year for the last eleven - doesn't seem like a healthy company to me.  

December 4, 2012 03:22 PM #

Jane United States says:

@Dana: Have you met Ms. Hunt? Interested to know what you're basing your comments on.

December 5, 2012 04:17 PM #

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