Leo Burnett Scores AOL Reinvention Job

Score one for the old lion club of Madison Avenue.

AOL, the one-time Internet juggernaut now being run by Google innovator Tim Armstrong, tapped Leo Burnett to run the reinvention of AOL.

Okay, Burnett is in Chicago, so technically it’s not Madison Avenue. But it is one of the oldest names in advertising among the big firms still left.

With Armstrong coming from Google, I expected any number of agency set-ups: maybe a combo of Nike agency Wieden & Kennedy and some digital firm Armstrong liked, or the formation of some all together new agency made up of different disciplines. I did not expect Armstrong, who surprised many by talking the AOL job, to select one of the industry’s oldest names.

Good score for Leo.

The Publicis Groupe subsidiary was apparently one among several agencies that participated in a closed request-for-proposal process. “Leo Burnett has a stellar reputation for creating and reinventing legendary brands based on powerful human insights,” said AOL Chief Operating Officer Kim Partoll. “That is the primary reason we’ve decided to work with them.”

Burnett will provide strategic brand communications consulting services to AOL as the brand prepares to figure out what it will be at a time when brands like Google, Facebook and Twitter seem to be making AOL more irrelevant by the day.

In late May, Time Warner’s board of directors authorized plans to spin off AOL as an independent, publicly traded company by the end of the year. Armstrong and Burnett have until then to make clear what it is we might be actually be investing in. Right now, it is not so clear.

AOL has outlined a new five-point strategy for the future of the company. The plan includes the expansion of vertical content, local and online mapping services, a third-party ad network, communication tools, and early-stage investment through a newly formed AOL Ventures arm. Good luck with that. It sounds like a business that it is going to take a lot of ‘splaining.

The new AOL will continue as Web portal and more as a fragmented network of niche content sites. This so-called MediaGlow network presently encompasses over 70 niche content sites — with many more on the way.