AOL launches b-to-b media business with AOL Energy
By Sean Callahan
AOL is going b-to-b.
Last month, the company launched AOL Energy, an online brand dedicated to covering the electrical power generation industry through a combination of original reporting, aggregations, data, opinion and video. AOL Energy is led by Editor Peter Gardett, who was previously bureau chief of Argus Media.
AOL Energy is part of AOL Industry, AOL's new trade media unit. In addition to energy, AOL Industry will cover government and defense. AOL Government, which will be led by Wyatt Kash, a former editor with 1105 Media, and AOL Defense, which will be led by Colin Clark, most recently the founding editor of DoDBuzz.com, will launch in the coming months.
“Launching AOL Industry allows us to bring to specific business sectors the same sense of community for which AOL Huffington Post Media Group consumer sites are well known,” Arianna Huffington, president of AOL Huffington Post Media Group, said in a statement.
Jay Kirsch is AOL Industry's VP-general manager. Most recently CEO of Imaginova, Kirsch unveiled some initial details about AOL Industry at the American Business Media annual conference last month in Austin, Texas.
Kirsch said that for the first year the revenue model will be “strictly advertising,” driven in part by the availability of the Portrait rich-media ad unit, which is 300 x 1050 pixels and can contain video and other media formats. “It plays a very key role,” he said. “The type of messages that trade advertisers are trying to get across are often far more complex than the ones consumer marketers are.”
The Portrait format will aid AOL Industry in attracting b-to-b advertisers, Huffington said. “Quality ads are part of it,” she said in an interview last month in Chicago. “This format enables the reader to engage with the ad.”
AOL Industry will take some new approaches to b-to-b media, Kirsch said, noting the open design will feature large images. In addition to traditional journalism, the site will feature aggregation and content contributions from industry vendors. “We want to have trusted vendors as part of the conversation,” Kirsch said.
Additionally, AOL Industry is looking to tap into social networking. For instance, using open APIs from LinkedIn, AOL Industry will enable users to “personalize” their experience on the site.
“We're creating the kind of trade media vehicle that is in line with the way executives do business today,” Kirsch said. “They read blogs. They use mobile. There is pretty in-depth usage of video. The fact that the site is natively social is big.”
Kash, who will edit AOL Government, said he saw an opportunity in AOL's approach. “I saw the b-to-b media business kind of falling behind in the online world. There's some investment, but not enough to keep up with the rapid evolution of the Web 2.0 and social media,” he said, adding: “I made the decision to jump to AOL because it clearly is one of the few companies that are investing heavily in content.”
AOL's foray into b-to-b was met with pockets of skepticism at the ABM meeting. During the Q&A period following Kirsch's presentation, an ABM member said the AOL project reminded him of VerticalNet, an online business that threatened in 1999 to turn traditional b-to-b media companies into “dinosaurs.”