Questions for Lynda Clarizio, President of AOL’s Platform A

Advertising.com President Lynda Clarizio says she was surprised when she got the nod to head up AOL’s new Platform A advertising unit, replacing ex-Tacoda chief Curt Viebranz. However it will come as little shock to those familiar with her history assisting the company in integrations of mergers and acquisitions such as Time Warner, MapQuest and Advertising.com. Clarizio served as SVP acquisitions and strategic investments from 1999 to 2002, and worked on the strategy and financial planning side at the company afterwards before moving on to become president at Advertising.com in 2006. Clarizio was named president of Platform A last week.

A host of companies, including some acquired only in the past few months, sit under the Platform A umbrella, waiting to be completely integrated. Along with Advertising.com and video ad company Lightningcast, which have been integrated, more recent acquisitions have yet to totally come together. These include behavioral targeting firm Tacoda, mobile ad network Third Screen Media, contextual text ad network Quigo, ad management firm AdTech, and affiliate marketing firm Buy.at. AOL also just snapped up Bebo, a social networking site popular in the U.K., which it aims to monetize through Platform A offerings.

Clarizio discusses her goals for Platform A and how her M&A background might help steer future integration for AOL’s recently acquired advertising firms.

Q: Did you know ahead of time that AOL planned to name you president of Platform A?

No, it was a surprise.

Q: How is Platform A combining ad sales operations?

Our real goal in Platform A is to create one marketplace for the buying and selling of online advertising… We want advertisers to feel there is one place they can come to do their media buying.

Q: It was rumored recently that Platform A could lay off 50 percent of its staff. Is this true?

I’m really just working on that plan right now, so what’s been reported are rumors. It’s probably too soon to tell. Those reports are pure speculation.

I told the employees that all work in Platform A that [this] week I would announce the new leadership team for Platform A and I intend to keep that promise.

Q: Will you be making those executive announcements public?

It’s really an internal announcement.

Q: Can you tell me some details when it comes to integrating the Platform A companies? What will that process be like?

They’re [AOL Chairman and CEO Randy Falco and President and COO Ron Grant] really looking for me to accelerate the integration and alignment at Platform A. Several of the acquisitions have actually been to support Advertising.com — specifically Buy.at, Third Screen Media, Lightningcast, AdTech. We have very effectively integrated those products and businesses at Advertising.com.

Lightningcast has been fully integrated… The Lightningcast engineering team is our video engineering team at Advertising.com… We’ve continued to use the name Lightningcast for Advertising.com’s video ad serving.

Q: There are several recent acquisitions to fold into Platform A, though, including AOL’s most recent Bebo purchase.

I think it is a big task, but it think it’s doable… You need to create alignment around key externally-facing functions like sales and what we call publisher services.

Q: Will the Lightningcast integration inform the other integrations?

I wouldn’t want to take the Lightningcast situation and say it would work across the board.

I learned a lot during that time [while working on M&A for AOL between 1999 and 2006] about what to do and what not to do about mergers and acquisitions.

We’ve been very methodical… I want to apply that to Platform A.

Q: How do you envision Bebo fitting into your plans at Platform A?

My hope is that we can help Bebo on the monetization side… The deal hasn’t closed so we haven’t had any explicit discussions with them.

Q: How might Platform A, using Bebo and Tacoda’s behavioral targeting capabilities, compete with MySpace, which launched an audience profile-based display ad targeting system last year?

I think we’d want to explore that; we have not yet engaged [Bebo].

Q: Companies like Yahoo and Google have set their sights on ruling display advertising, something the Advertising.com network has dominated in recent years. How will Platform A compete?

There’s no question there’s intensifying competition in this part of the business. What we bring to the table is our great optimization technology… which really forms the base of the Advertising.com business, which really enables us to optimize the advertising in our network.

Also we’ve built up… a huge scalable infrastructure to handle a large amount of unsold advertising. This is a volume game… We have the reach in the U.S. and Europe… I feel like we’re pretty well positioned to compete.

Q: CPMs have been decreasing. How will Platform A combat lower CPM rates?

In terms of non-premium inventory which sits in the network, we have a variety of ways to increase CPMs. Tacoda has behavioral targeting, Quigo has contextual targeting… The targeting definitely helps to increase the value of non-premium inventory.

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