What the CEOs Need to Hear

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- As a holiday gift for the C-suite executives struggling with corporate decisions, we offer, unsolicited (and perhaps unwanted) advice for how they might turn things around and reclaim past relevance and success.

Once upon a time, for instance, America Online was how most of the country took their baby steps onto the Internet. Its "You've got mail" prompt was such a part of the culture that, heck, they even made a Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks movie about it.

AOL (AOL) has fallen mightily. But it is too soon to write if off. To start with, it still has millions of users, a top-notch instant messaging program and what remains one of the best email platforms ever devised.

In recent months, the company has adopted a "content is king" philosophy that means a massive amount of partner-provided and even in-house content. Its Patch network of sites is hiring reporters across the nation to offer "hyperlocal" community news. Gluing it all together is better integration with social networking sites.

We've come around to thinking AOL's strategy might just be what the doctor ordered. We have a few suggestions of our own to kick in:

AOL should consider a fresh marketing campaign to draw attention to its new personality. Many still associate the company with the squeak and squelch of phone modems and the way those "free trial" CD-ROMS cluttered every store's doorway.

When CEO Tim Armstrong said AOL's goal was to be "a low-cost producer of high-quality content at scale" we hope the emphasis is more on the "high" part than the "low." Content is not nearly as quick, cheap and easy to produce as many think. Already, there is buzz that Patch writers feel overworked and underpaid. Pay for quality just like your TMZ celebrity gossip site pays for paparazzi pics, Tim.

Finally, let's speak bluntly: AOL's own software shouldn't suck. While the company is pushing people to the Web, those using its old-fashioned, all-in-one desktop interface get navigation that's slow and confusing -- even the simplest of tasks are frustrating, bringing in third-party apps even to create an online profile. Improve it or kill it.

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