Aol SVP Clift On New VivaKi Deal And The Publisher-Agency Relationship

Erin CliftAol and VivaKi announced a new partnership which will look to unearth new formats for online video advertising and will be part of VivaKi’s “The Pool” initiative. Read the release.

Erin Clift, SVP of Branded Experiences at Aol, discussed the deal as well as her own role that addresses both marketer and agency constituencies. Can you talk a little about your multi-faceted role and the goals that are involved? It seems unique.

EC:  I’ve been at AOL for two-and-a-half years and joined the company after seven‑plus years at Google.  When I originally came over here, I did a lot of sales development, built teams, put things in place, but now I have two primary roles.

The first is building out our agency development team. The personal goals of that role are to think about the agency as the primary customer of AOL. That’s typically not how an ads or sales organization thinks. They really think about the client first.

This allows us to have a specialist team, who not only understands and knows the executives and influencers across the agencies – which are thousands ‑‑ but also really understand economics. The goals are really to accelerate revenue growth that’s usually beneficial for both the agency and for AOL, and removing operational barriers to doing business together, which tends to be the challenges for a lot of publishers and agencies. Then, of course, really create AOL experts at scale, and evangelists at scale. So, education and evangelism. We think about the holding company as a separate customer, and then the agencies that roll up into that. So that’s the agency role.

My second role actually came about a little over a year ago as we made a concerted effort to really get into the branded entertainment, or branded experience space – which encompasses the idea of really leveraging influencers, third parties and the spirit the great ideas come from anywhere.

If you build something great that has a real meaning behind it and matches a brand’s objective, together, we can build outstanding consumer experiences that also meet a brand’s objectives and of course are another means to drive revenue. It’s with different types of deals and consumers.

We have a cross‑functional team across creative and product engineering, design, program management. We work very closely with both sales and editorial to come up with ideas that we know brands, because they’ve told us, are looking for with influencers who can really scale that idea and the distribution of that content quickly.

I’m struck that your role is both pointed toward the agency and pointed toward the marketer. How do you manage that division?

I think it’s actually a nice match. I know that when you think about some of the trends that we’ve noticed in the agency world, they’ve actually made a lot of investments in focusing on building out original content for their brands. Whether that content manifests itself in video, in a website or social activation, I think that there’s actually an interesting connection between my role ‑‑ really focused on the brands and what they can do with content ‑‑ and the agencies that also represent and influence them.

So let’s just dig into the recently announced VivaKi partnership. Why does this make sense in the overall – regarding your thoughts about AOL and the importance of the agency relationship?

I think that we’ve had a lot of success bringing in marketers and agencies to help inform a lot of our decisions. When we created the Devil unit the display ad unit we did so with a consortium of creative professionals.

When we thought about the right relationship of brand and content in the video environment the same way we approached Devil in display, it just made sense to us to work with a partner and to work with a good first group of brands to help inform that decision.

VivaKi has had a tremendous amount of success in The Pool, and they’ve been a great partner to us in other areas. When I was actually talking to Tracey about the next “lane” of the Pool they were working on, they were curious if we wanted to be involved in it.

We started talking about what would happen if we took the really successful model that we’ve created and brands that they work with who have a high interest and passion for innovation. What if we did a very focused “lane” linking the relationship between the brand and the content of the video environment?

They were open to it. Again, I think we figured out an amazing process. They had a team of researchers, again, brands that are really interested in doing this. And to us, it was a way to accelerate what we were trying to accomplish.

And so what is AOL trying to accomplish as it relates to online video advertising?

I think that we’ve talked about it a lot. [CEO Tim Armstrong] has talked about it a lot. Investment in video is a core part of our strategy, and I don’t think that’s surprising, given the trends for consumer video consumption online. We made a lot of investments in video syndication, in production of original video programming, in partnerships that we discussed previously. It’s a huge part of our business. At the same time, we need to really figure out how to best monetize that business and how do you really help brands get the most out of that execution. I think our original intention in doing it was to really take the next step in figuring out what’s going to best long‑term for how brands are going to want to advertise in the video environment.

We think, similar to display, it hasn’t been done. I mean – there’s pre‑roll and there’s post‑roll. I think VivaKi has come up with an interesting outcome from their first Pool “lane” – AsQ. But with the trend toward personalization and the trends toward social, we thought there was definitely a need to explore.

One of the things about that exploration, which maybe wasn’t even expected going forward, was that they got their entire company involved. So a lot of the ideas that came about really came from their employees and their clients.

By John Ebbert

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