Razorfish's Lord Embraces New Tech Role With AOL Networks

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Bob Lord, CEO, AOL NetworksBob Lord is leaving his twin posts as Global CEO of Razorfish and CEO of Publicis Groupe’s Digital Technologies Division to take on the role of CEO of AOL Networks, a post that has been vacant since April when former head Ned Brody exited in April for Yahoo, pending his non-compete.

However, Lord, who joined Razorfish in 2000 and became CEO nine years later, will not stray too far from Publicis. In addition to overseeing AOL Networks, which houses the company's ad tech assets including the third party ad net Advertising.com and its demand-side and supply-side platforms, Lord will manage an exclusive partnership between AOL and Publicis that involves developing new approaches around the creative and programmatic parts of the two companies.

"The chief product we'll be working on is called 'Live Advertising,'" Lord said. "When you think about where the advertising business is going, everyone wants real-time information. Advertisers haven't really caught up to that in a way that's really creative and engaging. That's why it makes sense to build a formal, close relationship between the Publicis and AOL brands."

The partnership is dubbed PAL (Publicis AOL Live). The entity will be co-managed by Lord and three Publicis executives: Rishad Tobaccowala, the agency as chair of Razorfish/DigitasLBi, along with Starcom MediaVest Group CEO Laura Desmond and Leo Burnett CEO Tom Bernardin.

Specifics as to how the partnership will involve distinct pieces of VivaKi's programmatic services, like the buying platform Audience On Demand, are yet to be determined, said Kurt Unkel, president of VivaKi's products and services.

"We have been working with AOL on the AOP platform for awhile and this partnership will absolutely build upon that," Unkel said. "There will be more to discuss in the coming weeks, but increased access to inventory -- we've seen great viewability results from their Marketplace SSP product -- and continued product collaboration (API integration with our workflow / analytics platform) will be themes."

On Lord's end, the idea of "Live Advertising" grew out of an experience he had during this past Super Bowl. Lord was sitting with the head of Mercedes when the lights temporarily went out at the Superdome, halting play for about half an hour. Oreo famously took advantage of the situation, tweeting that "You can still dunk in the dark," and in the process becoming the most memorable piece of marketing that night.

"That example struck me as to what Live Advertising could be, and the partnership between AOL and Publicis is an experiment to find out what that kind of focus can mean in as part of the everyday business of advertising," Lord said. "It's about responding to the context and environment that advertising and consumers are involved in. It's about taking real-time bidding and programmatic as well as social media and taking on the creative challenge that's become more sophisticated. I don't know where we're going to take it yet, but I'm excited about the possibilities."

AOL and Publicis's partnership is exclusive for the next six months. After that period, other brands and agencies will be brought into the conversation about Live Advertising.

At Publicis, Lord's former positions will divided among two executives: Pete Stein will become Global CEO of Razorfish, while Shannon Denton has been named CEO of Razorfish North America. "As a company, Publicis wants to collaborate as much a possible and this extended AOL arrangement follows similar partnerships with Google and YouTube [on the video advertising project The Pool], with Facebook, with Microsoft," said Tobaccowala. "The focus on Live Advertising is related to something we've been working on for awhile, the Brand Lives initiative, which is about next generation story-telling."

Brand Lives is focused around matching new forms of media buying and planning with more sophisticated creative around what Tobaccowala described as "mobility,  participation and APIs, which involves linking to other things." Those three attributes have speeded up the rate of marketing. "We're anticipating that more marketing will be done 'live' and in the moment," he said. "And marketers are going to have to become comfortable with that, which is what Bob will be working on as well at AOL."

In addition to solving the creative and media buying issues associated with Live Advertising, Lord will also be taking a look at the properties within AOL Networks, which was formerly known as the Ad.com Group before its rebranding in February. In addition to the flagship Ad.com unit, AOL Networks includes the DSP AdLearn, the SSP Marketplace, retargeting tool Buysight, ad server ADTECH, and Pictela, the developer of AOL's large, interactive Project Devil ad units. On top of that is AOL's various video platforms AOL Live, AOL On and Be On.

"When it comes to the management of AOL Networks, the first thing I'll be thinking about is how to further simplify the way we take all those properties to the marketplace on behalf of advertisers," said Lord, who's official start date is Aug. 1. "I feel like I've always had my feet on the creative side of digital advertising, and this allows me to put a firm foot in the technology world."

Wells Fargo analyst Peter Stabler called Lord's hiring a "strong move" by AOL CEO Tim Armstrong. But he remains skeptical about these kinds of structured partnerships because promises of future spending are hard to keep.

"Agencies are reluctant to guarantee client revenues out of conflict of interest fears, while publishers face risk in offering any one holding company most favored nation status," Stabler said in a research note. "Further, we find the early explanation of 'live advertising' assets to be rather nebulous. We believe AOL has made significant gains in repositioning its assets in the eyes of skeptical agency staffers, but wonder whether there are really any new offerings here. This said we view the dedication of a service layer for Publicis agencies/clients as a clear positive and worthwhile commitment."

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