On paper, the combination of Henrique de Castro, Yahoo’s chief operating officer, Brian Silver, the former Travel Ad Network CEO who became Yahoo’s VP of ad platforms over a year ago, and AOL Networks CEO Ned Brody — who just resigned from that post — as head of ad sales for Yahoo North America, sounds perfect. But when you think about it, the mixture seems to be missing some ingredients.
In particular, this trio is mostly known for their managerial and platform acumen. None are especially regarded as salespeople, something that observers often said was lacking in Yahoo’s leadership through its string of engineering/product-focused chiefs, from Carol Bartz (CEO, 2009-2011), Scott Thompson (Jan. 2012-May 2012) and Marissa Mayer (July 2012-present). In the short period between Thompson and Mayer, Ross Levinsohn, who was widely regarded for his sales expertise, had served as interim head and was considered for the top post, but left the company when he didn’t get it (He eventually took the CEO post at Guggenheim Digital Media.).
“The rumor that Ned Brody would take on the job of of head of sales for North America reflects Marissa’s view of Yahoo as a product company, not a media company, given his skill set at AOL,” said one former Yahoo who asked not to be identified.
Although Brody is not considered a “deal-maker,” he is well-known in the online ad industry — and just wrapped up an appearance at AdExchanger’s Programmatic IO conference on Monday without letting on about any imminent changes in his position at AOL.
Brody also may have some additional visibility into Yahoo’s behind the scenes display picture: since Nov. 2011, AOL, Microsoft’s MSN and Yahoo have operated an ad alliance that involved putting portions of the respective portal’s unsold inventory through through their own respective networks. Not much has been said about how the unsold ad arrangement working out since then. When asked about it a few months ago, Brody said that the deal was still alive, despite the fact that its architect, Levinsohn, was long gone from Yahoo. That said, the access to Yahoo’s unsold inventory surely left little surprises under the rival portal’s hood for Brody as he contemplated his decision to move from AOL, where he spent so much of his career.
But Brody’s real insights may be how to navigate unscathed through a company that’s in constant flux. He’s survived numerous shakeups at AOL since returning to the company in 2009 as EVP of paid services. Brody departed AOL in 2007 as SVP of the Premium Services unit to start his own venture, an ad tech firm called Arpu.
In 2010, Brody was promoted to COO of Media, Advertising and Commerce and President of Paid Services. That role paired him with two other executives of some renown, David Eun and Jeff Levick, who were brought in by Armstrong from Google to serve as president of AOL Media and Studios and global ad sales head, respectively. Ultimately, Brody’s new title appeared to outrank Eun and Levick and the two executives left AOL shortly thereafter, leaving him as the only one standing.
Other promotions for Brody followed, ultimately landing him at the top job of AOL’s flagship brand, Advertising.com. Since then, Brody’s star continued to shine brighter, as AOL’s third party network revenues under Ad.com grew by double digits for several quarters, even as its overall display revenues were generally flat.
As a sign of that strength on the third-party network side, Brody was seen as the point man to ensure that AOL was recognized for its emphasis on “programmatic” tools, including the introduction of its demand side platform, AdLearn, a year ago, and the complementary supply side platform, dubbed Marketplace, which debuted this week. In preparation for the SSP’s introduction, Armstrong announced that the Advertising.com Group that Brody was CEO of would be rechristened AOL Networks, in order to simplify and reintegrate the company’s automated ad tools and systems.
If Brody is indeed hired by Yahoo — and a variety of sources told AdExchanger it does look like a done deal — that would probably pit Brody against Silver, who’s been working to revivify Yahoo’s programmatic product, Right Media, since the Thompson reign. Despite his role as a CEO of TAN before arriving at Yahoo, Silver is not as high profile. But as AdExchanger sources confirm earlier reports, Brody has a non-compete clause which could keep him from starting a new job at Yahoo for at least a year.
That should give Silver time to solidify his position at Yahoo, especially if the portal does wind up selling Right Media, something that’s been speculated by the company’s observers for years.
In a conversation with AdExchanger last September, Silver, joined by Scott Burke, SVP, advertising and data platforms, attempted to make the case that Right Media, an early pioneer in the ad exchange space that the company bought in 2007 following several investments for a total of $680 million, was an essential tool in the company’s arsenal.
At the time, Burke said, “The view is looking beyond Yahoo’s traditional position on the supply side. Marissa is committed to that whole spectrum of products that we’re creating around data, targeting audience buying.”
Still, most of the industry remains unconvinced and uncertain as to what Yahoo’s ultimate approach to display advertising, an area it was a long-time leader in until being displaced by Google and Facebook, will be. Last October, during Mayer’s first earnings call with analysts, she said that search, not display, is where Yahoo and its investors should expect to see a real upside. With that mindset, Mayer sounds as if she can wait several months — or, perhaps a year — until someone like Brody can propose a way to make Yahoo a display leader again.