Moments after Vice President Joe Biden called Paul Ryan’s foreign-policy comments “a bunch of malarkey” during the Oct. 11 vice presidential debate, the Obama campaign bid on the trending term “malarkey” on Twitter. Users seized on the old barb, generating tens of thousands of messages tagged #malarkey, which created a commercial boomlet, complete with T-shirts and bumper stickers.
That is the kind of thing that really gets Adam Bain going. As it should: Twitter’s president of global revenue is responsible for the growing array of advertising tools that make moments like these a profit center.
Bain, 39, started his career in news at one of the first regional city guides, Cleveland.com, and then spent two years as a web producer at the Los Angeles Times before he joined News Corp. (NWSA) in 1999. An affable sales executive, he rose to become president of the Fox Audience Network, a division that included one of the largest digital advertising networks and was responsible for making money from properties like MySpace.
When Twitter CEO Dick Costolo recruited Bain in August 2010, the microblogging platform was the black sheep of social media sites. While LinkedIn (LNKD) and Facebook were building robust advertising engines in preparation for their much-anticipated initial public offerings, Twitter had a $3.7 billion valuation but no obvious business model.
Bain eschewed banner ads in favor of messages that showed up directly in the stream of tweets. Pundits wondered whether users would rebel, but it worked. Says Bain: “In 2011 the most retweeted tweet of the year actually came from a marketer itself.” (It was a Wendy’s tweet aimed at charities.)
With 140 million active users, Twitter has now become a staple for advertisers. It is expected to pull in $288 million in ad revenue this year, according to eMarketer, a 107% jump over 2011, and is now valued at $8 billion. What’s more, the company launched mobile advertising in February and already brings in more revenue from that than from desktop users. “Even though Twitter’s usage is way below what Facebook has, the company has been able to attract a lot of big brands,” says eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson. She credits Bain and his 250-person team.
Next up? Bain has a self-service tool for small businesses in the works, but as with the company’s slow-to-emerge ad products, he is taking his time to learn from competitors before releasing it widely. By watching other companies struggle, Bain calculates Twitter will benefit. That’s likely to be the strategy for an initial public offering as well: It’s not expected before 2014.
This story is from the December 3, 2012 issue of Fortune.