Burnett Leaves Google to Head Facebook Self-Serve Ad Unit

Another Google ad exec has left the search firm — this time for Facebook. Grady Burnett will join the social networking site later this month in a newly created position, heading up its self-serve advertising unit. Burnett ran Google’s online sales operation in Ann Arbor, MI, handling its AdWords program there.

Some refer to Burnett’s and other exec departures as a Google brain drain; however, many maturing Internet media and advertising firms have experienced similar waves of staff departures. Burnett will start as Facebook’s director of online sales, starting in late June in the firm’s Palo Alto, CA, offices.

Burnett is charged with running the company’s inside sales operation, which essentially entails its self-serve ad product. Burnett “is effectively taking on new position,” said a Facebook spokesperson, adding that he will “drive the direction of [the online sales] organization, making it useful and effective for those who are operating in that channel.” Specifically what markets Burnett will focus on or what new developments might be made available to advertisers is unknown at this point.

Burnett will share management of Facebook’s online sales unit with Don Faul, according to the spokesperson. Facebook’s separate global sales division, which serves agencies and brand marketer clients is headed by its VP Global Sales Mike Murphy. Facebook will not reveal the number of staff in the online sales unit; however, the Facebook spokesperson said the company is hiring engineering and technology and sales staff.

A U.S. Department of Justice investigation serves as a backdrop to the steady stream of online ad industry executives moving to competitive firms. Reportedly, the DOJ is investigating the hiring practices of technology firms including Google, Yahoo, and others. The implication is that executive moves among top tech competitors could violate antitrust and collusion-related laws and regulations.

Google has appointed Mike Miller to head its office operations in its Ann Arbor office, replacing Burnett. Miller has been with Google since 2006, according to a company spokesperson.

Google has recently lost a handful of top advertising executives to AOL, including new AOL CEO Tim Armstrong; AOL Head of Global Advertising and Strategy Jeff Levick, and just-named AOL Senior VP-Global Sales Development Erin Clift.

Google is experiencing what other online giants have in the past, including Yahoo and Microsoft. Even smaller Web firms have experienced departures of top execs to competitors recently. For example, Federated Media’s top sales exec Chas Edwards left the company recently to join social news site Digg as chief revenue officer and publisher.

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