Musk looks to have placed a smart lady in charge of Twitter.
Musk has dramatically reduced the staff at Twitter, moving the habitually money-losing company close to break even. While he works on technical innovation, the new CEO will use her famous marketing expertise to bring back advertisers.
Do I think Twitter is on it's way to profitability and becoming a platform that supports a variety of opinions (both left and right)? Yup!
Meet Linda Yaccarino, Elon Musk’s New Twitter CEO and the Ad World’s ‘Velvet Hammer’
Billionaire bets that NBCUniversal executive with Madison Avenue ties will bring advertisers back to Twitter
By Suzanne Vranica, WSJ
Updated May 12, 2023 4:13 pm ET
Elon Musk announced on Twitter that he has hired a new CEO for the social-media
Early in the Covid-19 lockdown, a top executive at ad-buying giant GroupM called NBCUniversal ad chief Linda Yaccarino in a frenzy.
Matt Sweeney, GroupM’s chief investment officer in the U.S., was desperately trying to get his advertising clients out of spending commitments, as their businesses endured the strains of the crisis.
“We will get through this together,” Ms. Yaccarino said. Before long, she released some advertisers from their obligations. Mr. Sweeney credited her with nurturing a “long-term mutually beneficial relationship.”
Elon Musk is looking to capitalize on those relationships in a big way. The billionaire on Friday named Ms. Yaccarino as Twitter’s new chief executive, putting her in charge of a social-media platform that has been stung by a large exodus of advertisers since Mr. Musk’s $44 billion takeover late last year.
The Wall Street Journal on Thursday first reported that Mr. Musk was in talks with Ms. Yaccarino for the role.
In a tweet Friday announcing the news, Mr. Musk said Ms. Yaccarino will focus “primarily on business operations,” while he handles product design and technology. “Looking forward to working with Linda to transform this platform into X, the everything app,” he said.
Ms. Yaccarino was unavailable for comment, an NBCU spokesman said.
One of Ms. Yaccarino’s prime tasks will be to lure back marketers who suspended spending out of concerns Mr. Musk would weaken content moderation or that there was too much uncertainty surrounding the company.
She has a head start advising Mr. Musk: After advertisers bolted last year, Ms. Yaccarino reached out to help him navigate Madison Avenue and understand advertisers’ concerns better, people familiar with the situation said.
Inside NBCUniversal, the 60-year-old is regarded as an advertising sales machine. She is nicknamed the “Velvet Hammer,” because her hard-nosed negotiation tactics come wrapped in a friendly package.
In the case of Mr. Sweeney from GroupM, when businesses reopened after the worst of Covid had subsided, Ms. Yaccarino got her ad dollars back—and then some, ad executives say.
During her 12-year tenure at NBCUniversal, Ms. Yaccarino and her 2,000-plus-person advertising sales team have generated more than $100 billion in ad sales, according to the company.
Ms. Yaccarino, described by colleagues as a hard-charging executive and artful self-promoter, joined NBCUniversal in 2011 after almost two decades at Turner, whose networks are now part of Warner Bros. Discovery. She has steered the company through a structural decline in television that has affected all major media companies as consumers cut the cable cord. That change has put downward pressure on ratings—the metric used to generate ad dollars.
Ms. Yaccarino has pushed NBCUniversal to look beyond the 30-second TV ads that still make up the core of the business, embracing interactive shopping and forming partnerships with digital companies like BuzzFeed and Apple. She has streamlined ad sales across networks like Bravo, E! and the NBC broadcast channel, and played a role in the launch of the ad-supported Peacock streaming service.
Ms. Yaccarino won’t be part of a presentation for NBCUniversal’s advertisers on Monday at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, an annual event that aims to secure multibillion ad dollar commitments for the year, a spokesman said. Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBCU’s television and streaming division, will take her place.
Ms. Yaccarino has been a supporter of Mr. Musk, and people who have worked with her said her political views are a good fit with his. Last month, Ms. Yaccarino conducted an onstage interview with Mr. Musk at a conference in Miami Beach, Fla., during which she asked about his vision for Twitter and pressed him on his own sometimes-controversial tweets.
“Elon has committed to being accessible to everyone for continual feedback,” Ms. Yaccarino said near the end of the onstage interview. She said later during the interview: “If freedom of speech, as he says, is the bedrock of this country, I’m not sure there’s anyone in this room who could disagree with that.”
Ms. Yaccarino has made no secret to associates and friends that she wanted a CEO job. She has pressed inside NBCUniversal for more responsibility on several occasions, and a few years ago threatened to quit, people who have worked with her said. She acquired oversight of a significant data business inside the company, but was unsuccessful at wresting control of the ad business of NBCUniversal parent Comcast CMCSA -0.40%decrease; red down pointing triangle, the people said.
Ms. Yaccarino voiced frustration to associates at not getting a larger role in 2020 when then-NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell shook up the company, elevating some top lieutenants, the people who worked with her said. When Mr. Shell was ousted recently, after acknowledging an inappropriate relationship with a staffer, Ms. Yaccarino wasn’t considered a top contender to replace him, according to several company executives. Comcast President Mike Cavanagh has stepped in for Mr. Shell.
While Ms. Yaccarino has the sales chops to help Twitter, questions remain about how she will manage a company that is more known for its engineers and coders. Twitter and Tesla investor Ross Gerber said it doesn’t matter that she doesn’t have a typical engineering background. “Elon is not going anywhere as far as what he’s working on,” said Mr. Gerber, president and CEO of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management, regarding technical projects at Twitter.
Ms. Yaccarino will have a good shot at bringing advertisers back to Twitter “because she understands the brands and ad agency perspective on what they are looking for,” said Brad Feinberg, vice president of media and consumer engagement for Molson Coors’s business in North America. “Her word has been historically trusted,” Mr. Feinberg said. “There will be more stability with Linda.”
Earlier this year, General Motors was excited to debut its Super Bowl ad, which touted GM’s electric vehicles, during NBC’s “Today Show.” But the ad ran in a segment after a segment about the dangers surrounding lithium batteries in bikes and other items—an unfavorable juxtaposition.
Deborah Wahl, GM’s chief marketing chief at the time, immediately called Ms. Yaccarino, who sprang into action and made sure the automaker’s ad appeared again on the “Today Show” the next day. “She understands the value of business and commerce,” said Ms. Wahl. “That’s what makes her an incredibly valuable partner.”
Ms. Yaccarino is an outspoken executive who has been willing to take on big players in media and tech. She has voiced complaints about ratings powerhouse Nielsen, which she accused of not capturing digital viewing adequately and undercounting viewers in the pandemic. Nielsen, which has defended its practices, declined to comment.
“She had the chutzpah, the cojones, however you wanna call it, to take on those kind of issues,” said Terry Kawaja, an investment banker specializing in media and advertising. “That’s exactly the skill set that one would need to revamp Twitter.”
Linda Yaccarino, who made no secret to associates and friends that she wanted a CEO job, in New York City in 2015. PHOTO: BRIAN ACH/GETTY IMAGES FOR AOL
As big tech companies like Google and Facebook vacuumed up ad dollars, Ms. Yaccarino made subtle digs at them for allowing ads to appear near controversial content.
She told advertisers that network television offered companies a safe place to put their ads. In 2017, she took on the tech sector for not having independent parties assess how many people watched an ad—the metric advertisers need in order to understand if they are spending their money wisely.
“What the hell is a view anyway?” Ms. Yaccarino said, during NBCUniversal’s annual pitch to advertisers in 2017. “Has a view bought any of your products? No. Viewers buy products. That’s why TV works. It reaches real people,” she said.
In recent years, she has ripped a page from the tech companies’ playbooks by pushing the TV sector to bring better ad-targeting capabilities to TV. Last year, she zeroed in on the bread-and-butter of the tech platforms’ ad businesses: small-sized companies. She launched a self-serve advertising platform that makes it easier for smaller businesses to buy from its streaming service.
Jessica Toonkel, Alexa Corse, Patience Haggin and Joseph Pisani contributed to this article.