Oath’s CMO on how it plans to avoid a ‘dysfunctional marriage’ post-merger

Allie Kline explains how Oath, the newly formed holding company for the combined AOL and Yahoo business, plans to make the merger work for the long-term.

Over the last few years, there’s been no shortage of high-profile M&A deals. However, few have captured the public imagination like Oath.

Back in July, Verizon completed its $4.48bn acquisition of Yahoo’s operating business and combined the assets with its AOL arm to form Oath. Subsequently, several critics mocked it as one of the worst rebrandings in corporate history.

But despite this criticism, the Oath machine has pushed forward after last month launching its first b2b marketing campaign to entice advertisers. Oath also says it has ambitions to challenge Google and Facebook by becoming the third biggest player in the digital advertising space, with an ad revenue target of between $10bn and $20bn.

Speaking to Marketing Week, Oath’s chief marketing officer Allie Kline discussed the challenge of combining two very different corporate cultures and what she believes other brands must do to make a success out of a merger.

READ MORE: ‘We are not going to directly compete with Google and Facebook’ claims Oath boss

How much of a challenge has it been bringing all of the AOL and Yahoo assets together?

Any time someone goes through change, it is challenging: that’s just human nature! So far, the things we’ve done best have been around properly connecting our people and making sure they understand how they can personally grow here. That’s taken the edge off all the drama that usually surrounds integration as most firms start off with a ‘business, business, business’ mentality. The key is to let the money-making machine run in the background while letting your humans be human.

The biggest challenge moving forward is getting each of our consumer brands to really own the uniqueness of their own voice and audience. We want to achieve this while also making them feel the benefit of being part of a larger family, and convincing advertisers of this benefit too.

Culturally, how much have the Yahoo and AOL teams already learned from one another?

Yahoo has a strong Asia-Pacific business that AOL doesn’t have – that is an awesome anchor to move things forward.

Oath’s CMO Allie Kline

Straight out the gate, when our CEO announced the leadership team, it was 50/50 Yahoo and AOL, and that set the tone quickly that we’re not going to be more of one than the other. Culturally, it’s about everybody sitting at the top table together.

From Tesco and Booker to Amazon and Whole Foods, there’s been no shortage of M&A deals this year. What must happen to achieve success?

We’ve certainly seen the industry go through a consolidation wave and return back to a small group rather than a huge ecosystem of businesses. I believe the key is to continue to be founder-led. It could be that the company you acquire no longer has its founder around but it is imperative you maintain their values as that energy will be contagious culturally.

A lot of the time, the company making the acquisition says: “This is our way, why don’t you just blend in?” I’d say, don’t do that! My biggest advice would be not to lose the essence of what you’ve purchased and to let the brands be the brands!

The process of an acquisition going through is a lot like the process of getting married. At first, there’s the dating where everything is awesome and even your differences seem sweet to one another. However, then you get married, it all changes and one person is like “My way or the highway!” That’s when it becomes dysfunctional. Like a good marriage, you need to celebrate the individuality of one another and create some space, which is tough to do.

There’s a huge appetite among digital marketers for an alternative to Google and Facebook.

Allie Kline, Oath

To make a success out of a merger requires a low level of insecurity at the leadership level and we are fortunate enough to have that at Oath.

Oath obviously has a lot of editorial brands under its umbrella. For brands such as HuffPost do you see the future more around video than written content?

The future will be a combination of both. Mobile is a no brainer and I believe what screen you project it onto is irrelevant as the mobile device will be the control. Look, from a video point of view, we obviously have a lot of assets internally but I don’t think that means the need for long form content will go away. If you look at Gen Z, it’s an audience that has a desire to write handwritten letters again and keep notebooks. Yes, people like quick 20 second videos to get their news sometimes, but great storytelling always rises to the top no matter the format.

Is there really an appetite among advertisers for something like Oath? Surely, it’s going to be an uphill challenge disrupting the digital duopoly of Google and Facebook?

There’s a huge appetite for an alternative. One of the reasons I feel like the wind is at our back is we share the same commitments our clients share – that ability to build great brands.

We did a big concert in Charlottesville, Georgia, recently after the neo-Nazi troubles there. We leveraged four or five different brands, and hosted a one-off show featuring Dave Matthews, Pharrell, Ariana Grande, The Roots and Justin Timberlake. We put this out to a massive international audience and at real speed. That’s a great example of the kind of experiences we can offer brands.



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