AOL in Ad Pact with AmEx, Revamps Yellow Pages

Media conglomerate AOL Time Warner is ringing in the new year with a bang, expanding a lucrative marketing agreement with financial services giant American Express and beefing up its ability to attract advertisers with online yellow pages.

Through an enlarged, multi-year agreement with American Express, New York-based AOL will advertise credit cards and American Express’s Membership Rewards incentives program across its online, television, print, and music brands.

Financial terms were not disclosed of the arrangement, which effectively shores up, consolidates and expands a series of long-standing agreements between a variety of American Express and AOL Time Warner divisions.

On the Web, American Express ads will run on AOL’s America Online service and Web sites like AOL.com, CNNMoney.com and FORTUNE.com. AOL Time Warner also could run the ads on CNN, TNT and TBS and financial magazines through its Time Inc. unit.

The agreement also entails AOL Time Warner joining the Membership Rewards redemption program. As a result, the program’s nine million members can redeem their points for AOL Time Warner goods and services, starting with magazine subscriptions.

Additionally, AOL also said it would begin accepting American Express cards for all of its numerous subscription services, and that the two partners are planning additional marketing efforts to promote their use.

“We have had a great relationship with AOL Time Warner companies for many years,” said American Express’s Alfred Kelly Jr., who serves as group president for the company’s consumer and small business services unit. “Through our new alliance, we will be able to create additional value for our customers, increase usage of American Express Cards and create innovative communication programs.”

AOL, meanwhile, chalked the alliance up to another victory for its integrated media sales team.

“Operating across AOL Time Warner’s range of brands, our Global Marketing Solutions group worked closely with American Express to build on both our companies’ commitments to developing new businesses and unique marketing programs to create value for consumers,” said AOL co-chief operating officer Bob Pittman.

In addition to expanding its marketing relationship with American Express, AOL Time Warner also is looking to extend its advertising reach into online yellow pages, rolling out the listings onto its flagship America Online service, and several Web sites.

The listings, provided via a year-old agreement with Switchboard.com, will see AOL Yellow Pages now appearing on America Online, AOL.com, AOL Local and Mapquest.

Under the Switchboard deal, originally valued in the millions, AOL syndicated Westboro, Mass.-based Switchboard’s yellow page listings only across its Netscape.com and CompuServe brands.

The expansion continues AOL’s efforts to better monetize Web traffic interested in local information. Since the launch of America Online 7.0 in October, the company has put more emphasis on local information. For instance, the new AOL software adds local content throughout the service, and also entailed a rebranding of AOL Time Warner’s DigitalCities property into AOL Local.

The thinking behind such efforts is that local advertising by small businesses, particularly in yellow pages, is more recession-resistant than typical media.

But such move also put AOL into greater competition with like-minded rivals, such as Citysearch.com, which is owned by TicketMaster-Citysearch, and which syndicates its information to other portals like Microsoft’s MSN.

Switchboard, which licenses its listings from database marketer infoUSA, also provides similar services for AOL rival Viacom at CBS.Switchboard.com.

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