Patch Adds COO as Leadership Change Continues

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AOL’s Patch network of hyperlocal news sites has made yet another significant change at the top, naming former Westwood One operations head Steve Kalin to the newly created position of president and COO. Kalin will take responsibility over the company’s daily operations — with the advertising, finance, marketing, and content functions all reporting to him. He will report to CEO Jon Brod. Meanwhile, Warren Webster, who previously served as president, will retain his current responsibilities as “chief evangelist” with the title of cofounder.

Brod told Street Fight in an email that he will now focus on the company’s “strategy and vision, key partnerships, and product and engineering.” He reiterated that Webster’s responsibilities “will not change” as a result of the hire, saying only that “like many Patchers, [Webster has seen his] role has evolved as we’ve grown from a start-up into a large national company.” That evolution began earlier this year when Patch reorganized roles of its top leadership, putting Brod in charge of operations and Webster in the “outward-facing role of chief evangelist, driver of some key company-wide initiatives, and identifying new opportunities for Patch.”

Kalin comes to Patch a little more than a year after leaving Westwood One where he headed up Metro Traffic, the radio conglomerate’s traffic syndication division, before it was spun off to Clear Channel in June 2011. At the time of the sale, the traffic content network served more than 1,500 affiliates in 100 markets across four countries. In an email on Tuesday, Webster pointed to [Kalin’s] “deep experience in scaling and growing local media companies” as being essential for “taking [Patch] to the next level.”

The hire continues a leadership evolution at the closely watched AOL property, as it tries to answer some of the ongoing questions about the sustainability of its model. Last year saw the departure of two of the company’s key employees in former communications head Janine Iamunno and editor-in-chief Brian Farnham, and the addition of a handful of new positions at the top, including chief content officer, head of content operations, head of strategy and business development, and head of U.S. sales.

With the loss of his president title and the shifting of some of his responsibilities to Brod and now Kalin, Webster may be seeing his property at Patch dwindling. In February, prior to Farnham’s exit, Patch brought in Rachel Feddersen to serve as chief content officer, effectively initiating a slow transition for the former editor-in-chief, who departed in April.

Both Brod and Webster reiterated that Patch was on track to hit run-rate profitability in 2013 — a claim that AOL’s COO, Artie Minson, first made during AOL’s Q3 earnings call early last month. Even with expenses cut nearly 30% from a year earlier, the $40 million to $50 million in revenue projected by AOL CEO Tim Armstrong for 2012 means that Patch remains deep in the hole for the year. Using as a benchmark the $150 million that analysts estimated for Patch’s revenue in 2011, the company should see expenses north of $100 million and losses in the range of $50 million for 2012.

Steven Jacobs is deputy editor at Street Fight.