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AOL (NYSE: AOL) is bringing back former ad sales development head Janet Balis to lead sales strategy, marketing and partnerships for the com…

Janet Balis

AOL (NYSE: AOL) is bringing back former ad sales development head Janet Balis to lead sales strategy, marketing and partnerships for the company’s advertising unit. She will report to Ned Brody, chief revenue officer.

This is Brody’s first major ad sales hire since taking on the CRO role in July, amid the ouster AOL Global Ad Sales Chief Jeff Levick, who has since signed on as Spotify’s ad sales head.

Balis had been with AOL for three years, starting in 2004. Before that, she held executive sales posts at Time Inc. (NYSE: TWX) for four years. Last October, Balis, along with several other colleagues, found herself out of her role as EVP of Media Sales & Marketing at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (NYSE: MSO) as part of a wider sales restructuring. MSLO’s goal was create a more seamless organization between print, digital and TV.

Balis’ chief selling point for AOL is that she is said to have great relationships with major advertisers and agencies. Brody told paidContent that Balis’ primary duty will be to form a more coherent marketing strategy around AOL’s various offerings across video, social, premium, local and mobile and ensuring that advertisers and agencies have a clear sense of what the company can do for them.

Even though AOL’s display sales have been positive for the first half of the year, the company has already indicated that the slowing economy has dampened that success in Q3. (With AOL reporting its Q3 earnings on Nov. 2, Brody declined to discuss specifics about revenue trends.)

The company and its investors have had big hopes for the Project Devil ads that were fully rolled out last spring, but observers say that sightings of Project Devil ads are still relatively rare, at least on AOL’s owned sites, though that effort has largely been concentrated on selling on partners’ properties, such as Hearst Magazines Digital Media, FOXNews.com, Meredith Corp. (NYSE: MDP) The Wall Street Journal (NSDQ: NWS) Digital Network and The Weather Channel’s weather.com.

“There’s a perception that Devil ads aren’t scaling, but the actual number of impressions, the resell rate and revenue from those units have progressed better than the marketing and the actual story around it has,” Brody said. “That’s part of what Janet’s job will be. To make sure that story gets out to the clients.” More to come

In a brief conversation with Balis, she said that she feels that the AOL is nothing like the one she left four years ago. “This is a new company, especially because of the commitment to rich, original premium content,” she said. “There is so much to work with now.”

At MSLO, Balis oversaw a team of over 100 across print, broadcast, and digital. In between her first stint at AOL and her last one at MSLO, she was president of Digital Media Strategies, a consultancy.

Balis didn’t say that there was any particular piece that she planned to start working on when she officially arrives next Monday. “I basically want to start by getting a better understanding of AOL’s customers and seeing what’s been successful so far, what can have the most impact.”

The role of marketing strategist at media companies has changed greatly the past few years, as companies like Gannett, Meredith Corp., Time Inc. and others have created integrated marketing units. For years, AOL has created sponsorship sites on its video properties, but with the addition of Huffington Post to its existing blogs, that process is a lot more complicated. “I don’t see media companies as having to compete with agencies in terms of creating marketing programs for clients,” Balis said when asked about her approach to marketers. “You need both, and that’s part of the challenges and opportunities of digital.”

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