Q&A: AOL's Michael Barrett

by , Jan 27, 2004, 12:00 AM
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Michael Barrett, the newly named executive-VP, sales and partner marketing at America Online, is charged with jump-starting online ad sales as the interactive giant undergoes a major reorganization of its ad sales operations. Having joined AOL in 2002 as executive-VP, worldwide interactive marketing sales, Barrett has worked with three ad sales chiefs during his two-year tenure at the Internet giant.

Formerly the chief Internet and sales officer for Official Payments.com and an executive at Geocities, Barrett is also a traditional ad sales vet who has worked at Meredith Publishing and Newsweek Magazine. He worked in ad sales for online properties such as Walt Disney Co.'s Disney.com, Family.com, and ABC.com. Now, as AOL creates the new Networks Sales and Solutions division, Barrett is charged with overseeing an integrated AOL ad sales team that will sell a portfolio of products across AOL--advertising, search, and e-commerce inventory on its broadband, dial-up, messaging, wireless, and Web-based properties.

In his new role, Barrett will report to Michael J. Kelly, president of AOL's new Networks Sales and Solutions division. Kelly, a former Time Inc. executive, officially steps into his new position on Feb. 1 after a year as president of Time Warner's Global Marketing Solutions unit.

Media Daily News spoke to Barrett in his first interview since Time Warner, AOL's corporate parent, announced the ad sales unit overhaul on Jan. 14. Time Warner is set to report its fourth-quarter and year-end 2003 results on Wednesday.

MDN: Another re-org of AOL's ad sales group. Why? What's different than in previous iterations?

Michael Barrett: We're number one in audience numbers and we're not number one in ad sales. There were internal barriers in our operation, and we wanted to organize our house correctly to take advantage of our audience. That was the driver of the re-organization. We'll now be able to look at the inventory holistically ... taking advantage of search, commerce, and yield management.

MDN: Will you be adding salespeople?

Barrett: We currently have 80 salespeople nationwide. Our intention is to bring that up significantly in the course of 2004.

MDN: Significantly, does that mean it will double?

Barrett: That would be a fair assumption.

MDN: You report to Mike Kelly now. What happens to the corporate Global Marketing Solutions group that he headed?

Barrett: The group remains a resource. GMS represents the interests of the entire Time Warner corporation--Time Inc., Turner Broadcasting, AOL, Warner Syndication ... We'll continue to interface with GMS, which is responsible for a handful of large, global advertising deals. GMS works exclusively with those clients to ensure that they get the best service, they have an idea flow. Accounts are ultimately owned by the [individual] divisions. [Ed. Note: A new head of GMS has yet to be named].

MDN: What is your go-to-market strategy and how is it different than previous ones?

Barrett: We haven't done a stellar job [in the past], but it's premature to say how we will go to market. But certainly one theme is that with an audience the size that we have and the concentration across several large properties, one of the interests that we have is in super-serving the individual properties. We'll have an increased sales dedication and focus on surrounding properties that used to be bundled together. So, our Netscape, CompuServe, Mapquest, Moviefone, AIM, and other properties can be sold on an individual basis. You have a rising marketplace in terms of dollars, and we want to get our share.

MDN: What is the status of the so-called "backlog" of long-term mega ad deals--have they cycled through? Are you seeing any new ad revenue? Projections?

Barrett: The larger deals that were done several years ago are on the decline, and replacing that revenue is relationships with marketers that haven't advertised with AOL or haven't in a while. [Ed. Note: Barrett declined to offer projections due to corporate earnings announcements on Wed.].

MDN: What are the weakest advertising categories for AOL?

Barrett: The better question is: are there areas where we're under-represented from the audience standpoint? We have eyes on our programming schedule, and there are holes. Sports and the daytime, at-work audience ... We would love to have more advertisers. In general, we want to create larger audiences in areas that advertisers are flocking to. We're having success in selling the lifestyle properties.

MDN: Lifestyle properties such as AOL Food? How was that sold?

Barrett: AOL Food [a collaboration between Time Inc. and AOL] is the embodiment of what we're trying to accomplish. Best-of-breed content from well-known sources. In some instances the advertisers had relationships with AOL, in others with Time Inc. In some cases, advertiser relationships came about through both AOL and Time Inc., as well as GMS.

MDN: What message do you want to send to online media buyers and planners? To marketers?

Barrett: They're really one and the same. We spent the last year working with the community of buyers and advertisers. We've listened to them. The changes we're making are a reflection of their feedback. The programs will be better timed, better executed, and more targeted.

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