Janet Balis Rejoins AOL and Looks to the Future

Janet Balis recently rejoined AOL as Head of Sales Strategy, Marketing and Partnerships for AOL Advertising. This is Janet’s second tour at AOL, having lead sales development from 2004-2007 for the company. We recently spoke with Janet about her new position and her goals for 2012.

The Makegood: Janet tell us about some of the things that you’re looking to accomplish in your first year back at AOL.

Together with our broader sales organization, I look forward to communicating the AOL story clearly to the marketplace and developing exceptional partnerships with clients and agencies. I still have very fresh eyes on everything, being new to AOL, and I find the value proposition to be highly differentiated right now. The key for the next year is to shine a light on how we are uniquely able to move brands forward through our focus on content. To be in a position to tell the stories our clients want to tell, get them in front of the right segments of consumers, and get people talking about them is incredibly compelling. Our focus on creativity helps us get to very differentiated and exciting solutions.

The Makegood: You’ve previously said that advertisers first look for “objectivity about who their target consumer is” and then “how to engage them in a dialogue,” using a media agnostic lens. Given this, what do you think is the best way for digital media-focused companies to grow their slice of the ad spend pie?

I continue to believe that objectivity is critical when evaluating the target audience for any message. As marketers, our hypotheses and reality are not always aligned – the key is to use real insights to separate fact from theory. I always believe that any digital media company that comes in putting the consumer lens first has a far stronger shot at making their case. Consumer insights start with a clear identification of the audience, but that is only the beginning.  The key is to understand who those consumers truly are and why.  What are their needs?  What are their challenges?  What delights them?  Who do they listen to? Answering those questions is key to growing the digital opportunity. Digital offers more transparency than any other medium, which can not only drive the right digital strategy but also inform broader media approaches.

The Makegood: You served as SVP, sales development for AOL from 2004 to 2007. What would you say has changed the most in terms AOL’s sales and marketing solutions since then?

So much has changed since I was last a part of AOL. To put things in perspective, my time at AOL was during the phase when AOL was principally focused on a different business model and was part of Time Warner. Being here now is phenomenally exciting.  Under Tim Armstrong’s leadership, AOL is now an independent company that is able to capitalize on far more entrepreneurial approaches to the consumer and advertising marketplaces. I think we are more nimble than ever before, and I am excited to build a sales strategy for AOL that takes that agility and marries it to a focus on our customers. We must always apply a client-centric lens to everything we do, and AOL is in perfect position to listen to those needs and deliver highly creative solutions that offer results for our advertisers.

The Makegood: What kind of trends can marketers expect to see coming from AOL Advertising in the near term?

I think AOL Advertising will be taking full advantage of the very unique and powerful DNA of The Huffington Post. Huff Post brings an incredible ability to consider and optimize strategies in real-time, and I think all CMOs are currently challenged by the opportunity to communicate with consumers in real time and manage their brands. Huff Post built some incredible tools around content creation that enable that analysis around editorial and social interactions with consumers – now, the opportunity is to differentiate our offerings by bringing that even more aggressively into the advertising mix. Clients are absolutely sparking to the idea of real-time marketing strategy, and that is a huge opportunity relative to the social media marketplace – Huffington Post is a tremendous advantage as we build in that direction.

The Makegood: What advice would you give to someone starting out who is interested in a career in digital media sales and strategy?

Try everything. You have to live and breathe digital every single day to get it.  Read industry blogs, try new sites and tools, check out Twitter regularly, pin some boards on Pinterest, jump into Tumblr, watch Deb Roy’s TED speech on his company Bluefin, and then some…Use things from start-ups and big companies interchangeably (disruption is more likely to come from a company you have NOT heard of), and never let your experiences be the same as the masses. The key is to remember that digital media sales and strategy hinge on a seamless blend of creativity and technology – the more you have tangible experience on both the art and the science of it all, the more successful you will ultimately be.

And, my last comment on digital careers is: zig and zag. The key is to work in many different parts of the business – not just to “move up” – the more parts of digital you have experienced, the more valuable you will become as your career develops.

The Makegood: Thanks, Janet!