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Oath CMO hints at more changes ahead: ‘This is the internet, nobody is ever done’


By John McCarthy, Opinion editor

March 7, 2018 | 6 min read

Allie Kline, chief marketing officer of Oath, has hinted that there could be more acquisitions and partnerships to come at the company as it approaches its first year in operation.

AOL CMO Allie Kline will become the CMO of Oath

Allie Kline, Oath CMO

The Verizon-owned media giant owns titles including but not limited to HuffPost, Engadget, TechCrunch, Yahoo Finance and Yahoo Sports after a $4.8bn merger between AOL and Yahoo was announced in 2016, resulting in the formation of Oath in June 2017.

At the time, Kline promised to build a P&G of media and technology, and at MWC, she caught up with The Drum to share how the journey was progressing, noting that there will be continued investments in sports and in the women’s space, with a focus on "premium trusted content".

To get to this point however, the major business of the day has been integrating the brands it already owns and encouraging collaboration between them. Kline said the company is getting good at this by now. The staff is “prepared for a lot of change,” she said, adding it is important to be transparent at a place "where things will change all the time".

This is all part of an aggressive effort to push the company forward. “People either love that or they don’t,” she said.

Part of this aggression was noticeable in its decision to cut some 4% of its workforce in November 2017. Around 500 jobs were axed, adding to around 2,000 cut months earlier. Roles surplus to the objective "to lead the global brand space" were siphoned off. In February, the company said it was to fold Verizon millennial video site Go90 into its other brands, although even chief executive Tim Armstrong recently admitted: “The brand will remain, I don’t know how long for."

Less than a year on from officially launching Oath, the mission is to strengthen each individual brand and more effectively use the company's scale while the legacy systems continue to be migrated in the back end. Kline assured the most strident efforts are being made to ensure the integrity and privacy of consumer data, and this will continue through the rest of the year. While this is underway, Kline can’t promise there will not be more big changes or acquisitions at the company.

“When you try to say ‘oh integration is going to end’ we could say ‘sure’ but this is the internet, nobody is ever done with anything, we are trying to shape a team that is comfortable with a very high degree of opportunity and change.”

While she refused to reveal which companies are in the crosshairs for a possible purchase or partnership, she did express an interest in distribution partners, particularly on mobile, and groups creating “original and premium” content and video. “Those are the areas you should expect us to play heavily in… we have no interested in slowing down.”

The rebrand has altered the make-up of the titles already on the books too. With the Oath ad and video network functioning through these sites, Oath is better placed to spread messages, whether that’s female empowerment in the business world through its Makers scheme, livestreams of TechCrunch Disrupt or a powerful musical ad push from partner Shell.

“When I look at the demographics of the full portfolio it is very hard to imagine anyone we can’t reach. This is awesome and a huge opportunity to curate partnerships to be extremely targeted and tailored to what consumers want,” said Kline.

Targeting and tailoring this content is not enough. Kline added: "We deeply believe in original content, we believe in journalism, it is so important. Automation, aggregation and distribution are all things we welcome and support, but what you aggregate and distribute really matters.

"For our consumers… we have to be sure we are giving back to them on a standard that passes a human threshold, not just a machine threshold. That human threshold is one we will invest in for a long time.”

On the video side, while publishers like Vox Media cuts teams creating native video for social media, and the Facebook algorithm change bites into the likes of Littlethings, Kline is confident that Oath has the answer. She echoed chief executive Tim Armstrong’s sentiment that the group is a valid ecosystem to replace adspend going to Google and Facebook.

She expressed optimism for Oath’s live video output. While opportunities emerge to build awareness around its events like TechCrunch Disrupt (where the above Armstrong quote came from), Makers and Yahoo Finance’s Berkshire Hathaway content, Kline, a big NBA fan, expressed excitement particularly in the live sport space. She underlined an interest in NBA and NFL properties in the coming year.

She concluded: “When you are committed to creating original content those live experiences are much easier to create real content moments around and that is how we look at video. It is a gateway to getting people close to these live experiences.”

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