Online ad group names permanent CEO

Greg Stuart, hired as interim chief of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, will stay on permanently. His plans: Turn the nonprofit into a full-fledged--and profitable--trade group.

Stefanie Olsen Staff writer, CNET News
Stefanie Olsen covers technology and science.
Stefanie Olsen
3 min read
Greg Stuart, hired as interim chief of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, will stay on permanently, with plans to turn the nonprofit into a full-fledged--and profitable--trade group.

The online advertising association plans to announce the appointment later this week, Stuart said in an interview Friday. Stuart, a longtime IAB board member and advertising executive, became temporary CEO last October.

"There's a huge void of leadership in the industry, and we need to fill that," said Stuart, who has previously worked with ad giant Young & Rubicam, America Online and Sony Online.

Stuart took over for Robin Webster, the association's first-ever chief, who left for personal reasons after only 10 months in the role. Since Webster was hired, the association has been aiming to mature into a powerful governing body for the roughly $7.5 billion online ad industry, which suffered its first declines last year.

To grow up, the IAB has attempted to solve some of the underlying ills of the industry, which include disparate Web measurement reporting and a lack of research on the medium's efficacy.

Founded in 1996 to represent the newest ad medium in nearly 40 years, the IAB was run by volunteers until early 2001. Despite the need for a full-time leader, the IAB's board faced a tough road appointing a viable CEO to the position during the Net's boom times because of alluring stock options offered at many high-flying dot-coms. Critics have said that the IAB fell down on the job during those critical development years.

Since early last year, the group has been racing to catch up and to help polish the online ad industry's tarnished image after the Net bust. In its most recent ad sales report, the IAB said in December that U.S. Net ad sales hit $5.55 billion for the first nine months of 2001, slipping 8.4 percent from the same period in 2000. The decline was the industry's third straight dip in quarterly sales.

With Webster's appointment early last year, the IAB renamed itself from "Internet" to "Interactive" to include emerging digital formats. It broke off superfluous relationships such as those with agencies, cementing itself as a representative of publishers. It instituted annual membership meetings. And it elected several new board members, naming Shelby Bonnie, chief executive of CNET Networks, as chairman. CNET Networks is the publisher of News.com.

After the housecleaning, the IAB introduced guidelines for new, larger online ad units to address the declining rate of response to standard formats such as the banner. At the same time, it issued research on the effectiveness of the Internet for branding messages.

As part of his appointment, Stuart said that he plans to continue with research efforts and to improve standard industry contracts and reporting metrics. For example, the IAB plans to introduce later this month new terms and conditions, laying ground rules for interactive ad contracts.

Stuart also talked about plans to create new forms of revenue for the IAB, including the development of interactive advertising research reports.

He intends to introduce IAB-hosted industry conferences like those of major trade associations such as the National Association of Broadcasters. He said that he would like to get the IAB up to speed with other industry associations such as the Magazine Association of America and the Newspaper Association of America, which have budgets in the tens of millions of dollars and large staffs.

The IAB has a staff of four and a budget of about $1.5 million annually.

"We're a $7.5 billion industry, and (I'm thinking), how am I getting us to $15 billion, fast?" said Stuart, who with his family will move to New York, where the IAB is headquartered.