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AOL to Buy Internet Advertising Company
Baltimore Firm Acts as Broker For Web Marketing


Scott Ferber and John Ferber of meet with America Online's Ted Leonsis and Jonathan F. Miller at AOL headquarters in Dulles. AOL is paying $435 million in cash for the Baltimore firm. (Rick Kozak -- Kofoto Agency)

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By David A. Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 25, 2004; Page E01

America Online Inc. said yesterday it is buying Inc. for $435 million in cash, the firm's first major acquisition since its troubled merger with Time Warner Inc. in 2001.

AOL executives said the acquisition would enable the Dulles firm to garner a larger share of the rapidly growing online advertising market, which exceeded $7 billion last year, by giving it a direct stake in so-called pay-for-performance advertising. Corporations increasingly have turned to deals with search-engine companies -- especially Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. -- and other firms, including, that let them pay for ads based on the number of customers who respond, rather than paying a set fee tied to the number of visitors to a particular Web site.

Wall Street analysts hailed the deal as a turning point for AOL, saying it was a clear indication that Time Warner now views the once-struggling Internet firm as an engine of growth.

"It is a moment of significance," said AOL chief executive Jonathan F. Miller. "In the advertising arena, we intend to go forward very competitively and play big across the board in all forms of Internet advertising. This acquisition says that in no uncertain terms.", based in Baltimore, develops and tracks marketing campaigns for companies that buy ads on Web sites and also acts as a broker of sorts.

In an unusual twist, goes a step further than a typical advertising agency by actually purchasing advertising space from search engines and Web sites, then reselling it to companies. In that regard, takes on more financial risk than a traditional ad agency, which advises a company on where to advertise but does not own ad space itself. buys ad space from sites including Yahoo's Overture search engine, and Excite.

When Circuit City Stores Inc. wanted to ramp up its online sales but hold down its ad budget, the Richmond-based retailer turned to for advice and assistance on where, when and how to place ads on the Internet. The firm's software and advice enabled Circuit City to exceed its online sales goals and to spend less money in the process, the advertising agency said. had filed papers with the Securities and Exchange Commission indicating plans to go public. But company officials said they opted to strike a deal with AOL instead because it would enable the firm to grow more rapidly.

"We were going public to seek resources to help us grow," said Scott A. Ferber,'s chief executive. "Being part of the largest media company in the world, and being a key partner of AOL, gives us a better capability to get bigger, faster."

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