Despite all its bad news lately, AOL (NYSE: TWX) can point to at least some revenue gains tied to its traffic jump. The company's Q3 was mixed at best: profit dropped 7 percent to $400 million and display ad revenue fell 15 percent to $181 million; meanwhile, it had 12 percent gains in paid search.
Later tonight, AOL, led by CEO Randy Falco and Lynda Clarizio, head of Platform-A, will gather 400 ad and media execs to kick off a "traveling upfront presentation" it's calling the AOL Roadshow at the American Museum of Natural History. Bill Wilson, EVP of AOL Programming, demoed his presentation for me Friday; he'll be trumpeting the company's traffic numbers (one favorite of his: 21 months of consecutive year-over-year unique visitor growth for a current total of 56 million uniques). More important, he will also try to convince the industry that AOL is actually delivering on those traffic gains. Although total ad revenues were down 6 percent to $500 million in Q3, Wilson will highlight the news that the vertical content network of sites were up "solid double digits in Q3"but no specific figures.
The presentations come in the middle of a Q4 that will be mixed at best, given the state of the economy right now. At the same time, AOL's content strategy is paying off in increased traffic. Now the Time Warner unit has to translate that to real dollars. After the kickoff in New York, the company will host similar Roadshows shows for ad execs in Atlanta on November 20, with events in Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco in early 2009.
-- The numbers game: At the Roadshow, AOL will bury advertisers in an avalanche of growth numbers. In addition to the visitor growth, AOL will attempt to demonstrate it also has engagement: Wilson's presentation will focus on how minutes spent on AOL's content sites are up 36 percent, with pageviews more than doubling to 14.5 billion from 6.1 billion. Above all, Wilson wants advertisers to leave the presentation with the feeling that AOL is really a media companynot an just an online ad network or a portalthat can deliver ROI as much as any web publisher. More after the jump.
-- Abandoning microsites: AOL recently updated its "marketer microsite" offerings for GMC and Campbell's Soup. In the past, AOL would create a separate site for an advertiser, but Wilson said that the company decided to take a different approach this time out. Now, the emphasis is on embedding a campaign into one of AOL's existing channelssuch as GMC's spot within AOL Living and Campbell's Food section home. Wilson compares it to advertisers buying time around a hit TV program, as opposed to a broadcast network creating a show from scratch for an marketing campaign. The former "stands a better chance of drawing consumers and having your ad surrounded by a richer experience," he says.
By David Kaplan