AOL Hires a CMO With Social Ties

John Burbank, AOL’s new chief marketing officer, has a history of building relationships with big media, including the monsters of social media and video. During his tenure as VP of marketing with AT&T Wireless, then Cingular, then the new AT&T, Burbank facilitated mobile services deals with Facebook, MySpace and YouTube, among others. That track record could help AOL grow its content distribution in the new era of syndication, when accepted wisdom holds traffic to one’s own site matters less than reaching people wherever they happen to be.

Burbank assumes oversight of marketing for all AOL products, services, and brands beginning this week, prior to which AOL had been without a CMO for several years. The decision three months ago to hire one was driven by CEO Randy Falco and President Ron Grant, who decided the Time Warner unit needed to “strengthen the AOL brand throughout all segments of the marketplace,” a spokesperson said.

While at Cingular/AT&T, in addition to building relationships with digital media firms, Burbank was credited with securing exclusive mobile video content from AOL corporate sibling HBO. He also developed Cingular’s “Signal Bars” campaign, which began on TV and later grew to include digital components in a campaign created by Atmosphere BBDO, and expanded Cingular’s Hispanic marketing program. The latter is an area of ongoing investment for AOL, which recently launched a social networking service under its AOL Latino umbrella and today introduced a Spanish-language online reality show, “Fashionista.”

A year after abolishing its walled garden, AOL has sought not only to embrace a strategy of open content, but to push its content far and wide online. The company’s distribution strategy includes participation in the premium video venture backed by NBCU and News Corp. and cross-media tie-ins with several original AOL shows and series. When AOL first unveiled its 2007 programming at an upfront event in New York two months ago, EVP of AOL Media Networks Kathy Kayse said the company had a dual strategy of promoting its in-house content while pushing the same content elsewhere online.

“When we talk exclusive, it’s the initial offering we’re bringing to market that provides our consumers an opportunity to interact with programming we’ve created,” she said. “But our real goal is to push that content out any way, both online and offline.”

AOL also licenses a great deal of content from other media partners. It joined CBS’s Interactive Audience Network, along with Microsoft and Comcast, to carry programming from the network on AOL properties; and has a similar relationship with eco-lifestyle network LIME.

Burbank left AT&T several weeks ago and started with AOL this week. An AT&T spokesperson said the company had not yet named a successor to Burbank.

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