Brand.net Eyes Auto Brands With $14M in New Funding

BLAIR.jpgNow that Detroit seems to be coming out of its deep funk, Brand.net – an ad network armed with $14 million in new funding – says it’s ready to target the automotive advertiser vertical for the first time. The display ad seller has been strongest in targeting verticals like retail, CPG, and telecommunications, while holding off on struggling brands like General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler.

But not anymore, said Elizabeth Blair (pictured above left), CEO of the two-and-a-half-year-old Brand.net. “The automotive opportunity is huge,” she said. “It happens to have been probably the two worst years in the modern history of automotive. And so it didn’t make sense to go after the vertical with the resources we had until we were ready to do it correctly and when the industry was really in a position to be doing brand spending.”

Brand.net focuses on brand advertising rather than performance-based buys. The big round of funding – which was led by Focus Ventures – appears to have enhanced its sales acumen for landing automotive clients. It announced three hires on Tuesday, including 15-year Detroit ad sales veteran Bernice Munk. While taking over leadership of Brand.net’s Detroit and Minneapolis sales offices, she brings a history of automotive accounts through her work for employers like Conde Nast, Hearst, J. Walter Thompson, and Campbell-Ewald.

The Munk hire comes after Brand.net cherry-picked Jay Beckley from Yahoo; Beckley came on board in December as VP of Brand.net’s North Central division after serving Yahoo for 10 years, specializing in automotive.

CEO Blair also came from a long Yahoo stint (nine years) before co-founding Brand.net. And it appears the new funding will help her shape Brand.net after the Sunnyvale, CA-based Internet giant in some ways. The San Mateo, CA-based Brand.net has so far anchored ad sales in New York, but will now open its first-ever West Coast sales office at its headquarters.

“We follow what I consider to be the classic and correct model for an advertising media company with a technology element,” Blair said.

Brand.net hopes the new sales location will help it tap the lucrative entertainment sector in Los Angeles, she suggested, while potentially picking up technology clients in San Francisco and Seattle. Energy is another vertical the firm hopes to successfully target with increased geographical presence in the west, Blair said.

In addition, the company announced the hiring of another former Yahoo operative, Vivian Ritondale, who will lead the West Coast sales team. Ashley Atiyeh also has been brought aboard to head up CPG and beauty accounts, while overseeing the company’s southern division. Atiyeh is coming off a five-year run with the publication InStyle.

Lastly, Brand.net plans to use part of the $14 million to develop a self-serve ad-buying interface for agencies that is slated for a November rollout, according to an AdAge.com story.

Follow Christopher Heine on Twitter at @ChrisClickZ.

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