CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/ANDY JONESCO - How Jonesco left the world of print for the internet. Ian Darby looks at whether Andy Jonesco has enough new-media savvy for AOL

The emergence of Andy Jonesco, a dyed-in-the-wool newspaper man, as a leading light at the new-media trailblazer AOL has led to many a raised eyebrow.

Jonesco, lest we forget, was last seen departing Ludgate House, where he was the managing director of Express Newspapers, soon after Richard Desmond and Stan Myerson pulled up to run the show. The thinking at AOL seems to be that Jonesco's background, four years at Express Newspapers following a long stint as the ad director at the Telegraph Group, will help it in targeting more traditional advertisers and media agencies.

AOL needs to re-energise its sales activity as its parent group, AOL Time Warner, struggles with a huge mountain of debt. Jonesco's role of vice-president of interactive marketing will essentially cover all sales and commercial deals at AOL.

The internet service provider and interactive services company has been successful in amassing 1.7 million UK subscribers - on the back of the dubious Connie campaign - and distributing CD-Roms to millions of UK households.

However, Jonesco will consider the role that advertising, sponsorship and commercial partnerships play in AOL's revenue stream - figures for which, his new employers are reluctant to divulge. He is certainly not starting from scratch, inheriting a team of between 40 and 50 in sales and support roles.

Since last summer Jonesco has been busy running his own media consultancy.

So what attracted him to AOL? "I wanted to do something different having left the Express. I like corporate life and it was always likely that I'd go back to being part of a big organisation. I'm excited at being able to play a part in the shape of what a medium will look like in the future."

Before accepting the AOL position, Jonesco was linked with several vacant posts including managing director at Emap Advertising and commercial director at The Independent.

So will he miss the inky world of print media? "No. I have friends in newspapers and I love newspapers and I have a reasonable understanding of them going forward but this is an opportunity to join a different organisation in a different medium altogether with a team that is helping to shape the future."

Doubters would suggest that Jonesco's lack of experience in the new-media world will be a hindrance. However, during his time as a consultant he has built new-media credentials working with AOL's great rival Yahoo!.

Supporters of Jonesco argue that his skills are transferable. Simon Mathews, the former managing director of Optimedia, says: "He's a terrific business person who understands how to build value into a business. He proved this at the Telegraph. He has an idiosyncratic style - ruthlessly honest and straight with people, which is a contrast to dealing with many in similar positions."

At the Express, Jonesco worked his way up to managing director from group ad director. Along the way he demonstrated he was capable of tough decisions, letting 25 of its sales team go in 1997 before bringing in new faces.

Generally, he is well liked by media agencies and contemporaries at newspaper groups with the only criticism levelled involving the collapse of a merger of the Express sales operations with the Telegraph Group's when Jonesco was ad director at the Telegraph.

After a year as managing director, honing his wider business skills under Lord Hollick, the Desmond deal led to Jonesco leaving just days after the acquisition. With Myerson returning to take the joint managing director role, there was no room for Jonesco and the clash of management styles was plain to see. So Jonesco, along with the group ad director, Richard Bogie, was out and faced with a long period of gardening leave in exchange for a big pay-off.

So what can his AOL colleagues expect? Chris White-Smith, the display ad director at the Telegraph Group, says: "He has this energy about him that enthuses those around him. He's a bloody workaholic, I used to feel guilty if I left the office before 8.30pm. Some would accuse him of being a crap time manager but I think he just loved what he did."

Jonesco will spend the coming weeks looking at the AOL revenue stream and planning the future. "I have an understanding of the media world and how it works. I will talk to agencies and advertisers about putting online in perspective alongside radio, press and TV."

Mathews says: "New media is moving away from being populated by whizzkids to characters of substance. Andy is definitely a character of substance."

Jonesco is approaching the new challenge with confidence and, after the bitterness of losing out at the Express, he clearly has much to prove to those who expected he'd slip easily back into newspaper life.

The words of Hardy's heroine Bathsheba Everdene in Far From the Madding Crowd sum up Jonesco's energy and ambition: "I shall be up before you are awake; I shall be afield before you are up; and I shall have breakfasted before you are afield. In short, I shall astonish you all."

Topics