Armstrong's departure comes as the search giant suspends its print and broadcast advertising ambitions, which he had advocated and shepherded.
Tim Armstrong, Google's top sales executive in the U.S. and Latin America, will surrender that august position to lead embattled display ad giant AOL as CEO and chairman.
Armstrong will replace Randy Falco, who took over from Jonathan Miller in 2006 and led the Time Warner subsidiary during the rocky integration of AOL's various ad selling units into Platform-A, its unified ad network brand. That ambitious undertaking wrangled together Quigo, Tacoda, Third Screen Media, adtech and other units into a single powerful media platform, yet AOL failed to accomplish its goal of growing at a rate faster than the online ad market as a whole. On the contrary, AOL's total ad revenues in Q4 dropped 18 percent compared with the year-ago period, and its display ad sales plummeted 25 percent.
"The economy clearly affected our business, particularly in advertising at AOL and publishing," Time Warner CEO and Chairman Jeff Bewkes told investors. "We're prepared for 2009 to be challenging too, in particular."
Falco also oversaw the creation of two other units at AOL: MediaGlow, consisting of AOL-owned and operated sites, and People Networks, its community platforms unit containing social network Bebo and AIM. Both Falco and Ron Grant, AOL's chief operating officer, will leave the company after the transition.
Of Armstrong, Time Warner CEO Bewkes said, "He's an advertising pioneer with a stellar reputation and proven track record...He'll also be helpful in helping Time Warner determine the optimal structure for AOL."
Yet Armstrong's efforts at Google have not all panned out. While at the company, he is reported to have been an aggressive advocate for the company's offline advertising projects, including its failed print and radio advertising programs. Google ended its Print Ads program in January, and just a month later said it would shutter its radio business.
Armstrong joined Google nine years ago, and opened its first satellite office. Before that he was VP of sales and strategic partnerships at Snowball.com, and director of integrated sales and marketing at Disney's ABC/ESPN Internet Ventures.
Google and AOL are long-term partners on search and advertising, and Google owns a piece of AOL. In its Q4 earnings call, Google indicated it would exercise the ""demand registration rights" that come with its 5 percent investment. Doing so would reportedly force Time Warner to either buy back those shares from Google, or to spin the unit off into a public company.
"AOL has a wide-ranging set of assets and audience," Armstrong said. "The company is well positioned to enhance those assets into a larger share of the Internet audience and advertiser communities."
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