Osako brings focus as Ask.com makes bold moves

Once into a conversation with Mary Osako, Ask.com's new SVP of corporate communications, one can immediately tell she is well-trained in messaging and exceptionally adept in dealing with the media. But don't expect her to mention the G-word.

Once into a conversation with Mary Osako, Ask.com's new SVP of corporate communications, one can immediately tell she is well-trained in messaging and exceptionally adept in dealing with the media. But don't expect her to mention the G-word.

When responding to questions about Google's 49% share of the 2006 US search market, she manages to avoid using its name.

"No matter what sector you're in, there will always be great competitors," Osako says.

She is not rare in this respect. Companies like Google and Apple seem to inspire taciturnity among others in the industry. And Osako, admittedly, has a good rationale for the way she constructs responses to reporters' questions.

"The best thing that I can do is focus my attention on the unique attributes of Ask.com," Osako says. "The company is laser-focused on providing the best search experience."

Osako says she joined Ask four weeks ago because the company had entered a growth phase.

Indeed, Ask is making its first splashy moves since IAC/InterActiveCorp bought the company in 2005 and dropped "Jeeves" from its name. It recently announced a $100 million marketing campaign and relaunched its search engine, which it is calling Ask.com 3D. Some of the features include simplified results, customizable home page looks, and added tools, such as the ability to find streaming music on band search results.

That marketing uptake, though, has come with controversy. One of the company's billboard ads (which feature variations on touting its algorithm) was criticized for its messaging: "The Unabomber hates the algorithm."

While the ad's development predated Osako's arrival, and she says, "Marketing isn't my purview," she believes the company generally is in a position to take risks.

"We're able to take interesting approaches within the industry," Osako says. "That's a key advantage in a sector where you're differentiating yourself. One of the great advantages of Ask.com is the ability to be bold."

Osako has a history in the search industry, having worked at Yahoo for more than six years, most recently as VP of communications and global policy.

Bank of America SVP and communications executive Chris Castro, who as chief communications officer at Yahoo was Osako's boss, says Osako has a "really good analytical mind."

"She's very smart, very strategic, and she understands the media environment," Castro says. "She had a really interesting range of experiences during that time. There was a need to adapt and a need to be aggressive.

"Not only was the company changing, so were the sectors," Castro adds. "Once you've gone through many different experiences, it gives you a strong foundation to focus on."

Osako says Ask.com is pursuing a singular goal of providing the best search experience. Another goal is to get Ask.com's 20 million to 30 million users to use it more.

While Osako is vague on the specifics of how the company will accomplish that, she says it will be a combination of direct interaction with the public, traditional media relations, and getting in front of the influencers in the space.

"[Ask.com CEO] Jim Lanzone had really outlined this great vision of where this company is going," Osako says. "When we chatted, it became clear that PR is a key driver of growth. For communications folks, it is important that [PR] has a real seat at that table."

Mary Osako

2007-present
SVP of corporate communications, Ask.com

2000-2007
VP of communications and global policy, various roles, Yahoo

1997-2000
Manager of media relations, Sprint

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