AOL Sales Staff Meeting Tapes Reveal Internal Turmoil

This week’s restructuring of AOL’s ad sales division appears to have been engineered at least in part by enraged staff members who forwarded audiotapes of abrasive meetings with staffers and outside vendors to senior AOL brass in September.

This publication obtained audiotapes of two meetings conducted by recently departed ad sales EVP Lisa Brown. In them, she repeatedly launches into obscenity-laced tirades, personally insults senior executives in her group, and at one point, pounds her shoe on the table, Khrushchev-style, when a creative director from a longtime AOL vendor speaks out of turn.

A member of Brown’s staff said the group began taping meetings after Brown denied making statements and issuing certain instructions.

When the Wall Street Journal broke the story of Brown’s departure, after only a handful of months with the company, last week, stating an “aggressive management style soon rubbed some subordinates the wrong way,” the ad sales staff was jubilant. “Ding-dong, the witch is dead,” crowed an IM sent from AOL’s New York offices that morning.

Requesting anonymity, a relieved member of Brown’s group said on Wednesday, “Let’s face it, this company is an old-boys network. Things will be a lot smoother with the old boys in charge,” following a company announcement of a reorganization of the ad sales division under the stewardship of Time-Warner executive Michael Barrett.

Following last week’s news of her departure, Brown promised this publication she’d tell “her side of the story.” Yesterday, she begged off on the advice of her attorney. AOL spokesman Jim Whitney, when asked about the tapes, said only, “we don’t have any additional comment.” Nor will David Dreyfuss, president of AOL vendor company Broad Street (a meeting participant), comment. AOL Vice Chairman Ted Leonis did not respond to an e-mail requesting a reaction.

Still-chafing staffers are more forthcoming, although none wish to be named. The letter that accompanied the tapes, addressed to Leonis, General Counsel Randall J. Boe, and HR head David Harmon, complains Brown unapologetically showed up for meetings up to two and a half hours late, and complains, “The general tenor of her behavior is filtering throughout the company. She… makes working within IM [interactive marketing] a nightmare for so many people it really needs to be dealt with…. If we lose the very very fine talents of the currently exasperated, it will be a damn shame.”

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