Twitter’s New CEO a ‘Velvet Hammer’ to Help Musk Win Back Sales
Twitter’s next leader is a well-connected media executive whose deep ties to Madison Avenue could help lure advertisers back to the platform at a critical time.
Twitter's next leader is a well-connected media executive whose deep ties to Madison Avenue could help lure advertisers back to the platform at a critical time.
Linda Yaccarino is leaving her job as head of global advertising at NBCUniversal to take the chief executive officer role at Twitter. She will work closely with owner Elon Musk, who will be both chief technology officer and executive chairman.
She will helm a company mired in multiple crises — many of them spurred by Musk himself. Musk fired or lost about 75% of Twitter employees since his October takeover, including most of those who had deep relationships in sales and partnerships, which Yaccarino will now need to repair. The company has also faced an advertiser exodus, triggered in part by Musk's erratic content moderation decisions and his own tweets.
Yaccarino joined Comcast Corp.'s NBCUniversal in 2011 after nearly two decades at Turner, home of cable channels like TNT and TBS. At NBC, she helped launch the ad-supported streaming service Peacock, oversaw live events like the Super Bowl and Olympic Games, and forged partnerships with tech companies including Snapchat, YouTube and Twitter.
She's perhaps best known for leading the TV industry's push for new ways to measure viewers. Yaccarino was highly critical of Nielsen, whose ratings have long formed the basis for TV ad deals, for not counting all the people who watched NBC's shows online. In recent years, Yaccarino took the unusual step of bringing together competitors in the media industry to discuss alternatives.
“She has been ahead of the curve really in measurement and marketing effectiveness,” said Michael Kassan, the chief executive officer of the marketing and media consulting firm Medialink.
Kassan said Yaccarino is “extraordinarily well-respected in the industry” and has “amazing brand and agency relationships.”
During his tenure, Musk slashed thousands of jobs, scaled back the company's content moderation and allowed accounts previously banned for breaking rules to return. A controversial subscription service plan, Twitter Blue, has been flailing, drawing less than 1% of the user base. Twitter needs to boost sales in order to repay $12.5 billion in debt the company took on when Musk bought it. Annual interest is expected to exceed $1.2 billion.
Despite a slight uptick in daily users since early 2022, Twitter's revenue has fallen by 50% since October as a result of a “massive decline” in advertising, Musk said in March.
“She's probably just what Elon needs to establish trust among advertisers,” said Martin Sorrell, who founded WPP plc, one of the world's largest advertising companies.
Dave Campanelli, chief investment officer at Horizon Media, said Yaccarino was “very, very tough in negotiations” but also listened to advertisers' needs.
“She'll bring a level of understanding of the ad space and what it takes to bring advertisers back to the platform,” he said.
Twitter users are already dissecting Yaccarino's politics and behavior on the platform to try to understand what kind of content moderation decisions she might stand behind — and whether she will align with Musk in his embrace of right-wing provocateurs that were suspended under Twitter's previous leadership for breaking rules or spreading misinformation.
In 2018, she was named by then-President Donald Trump to the President's Council on Sport, Fitness and Nutrition. On Twitter, she is following many people in Trump's orbit, including previously banned accounts, though it's unclear whether she runs her own profile. Among the far right, she is already facing backlash for serving on a World Economic Forum task force and associating with a pro-vaccination advertising campaign.
While at NBC, Yaccarino oversaw the integration of sales teams for Telemundo and became a big advocate for multicultural programming, according to Steven Wolfe Pereira, chief business officer at 3Pas Studios, who has known Yaccarino for years.
While Musk has publicly mocked diversity efforts at Twitter, Pereira said Yaccarino has been a “champion” on such measures and doesn't back down during business negotiations. “She is not a wallflower. They would call her the Velvet Hammer,” Pereira said. “She's tough, but she's fair.”
One of Yaccarino's first challenges will be a new show on Twitter from fired Fox News host Tucker Carlson, whose incendiary remarks led advertisers to steer clear of him on cable.
Another will be handling her mercurial, unpredictable new boss. He seemed to catch Yaccarino off guard Thursday when he said in a tweet that he had chosen a new CEO who would begin in six weeks, without naming her.
During an advertising conference last month in Miami, Yaccarino pushed Musk on his plans for making the platform more comfortable for brands. At one point, she candidly asked Musk whether he felt he had “derisked”' the site enough to assure advertisers that their campaigns aren't going to land in “awful hateful places.'”
Yaccarino told Musk on stage: “Are there days where I see some of your tweets and wish I could say, “Stop helping the situation?”
She nodded her head as she said it.
“There are very few people who wouldn't be just seen as a figurehead CEO of Twitter and Linda Yaccarino is one of them,” said Mike Proulx, who leads Forrester's chief marketing officer research team. “She's a well-respected force in the industry whose credibility with advertisers speaks for itself.”
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