“Many of you in this room know me and you know I pride myself on my work ethic, but buddy, I met my match,” the head of advertising at media and entertainment giant NBCUniversal at the time, Linda Yaccarino, said at a marketing conference in April, referring to the Twitter owner Elon Musk while interviewing the billionaire at the event. Little did Silicon Valley know then that the 60-year-old would become Mr. Musk’s pick to take over as the CEO of Twitter, the microblogging platform he acquired in a $44 billion deal last year and has since admitted to it as having become a “trainwreck”.
Seemingly in an attempt to warm up in a room full of advertisers and marketers with a visibly awkward Mr. Musk, while drawing from her long-forged popularity among them, Ms. Yaccarino said that though the man needed no introduction, the conference was, in a way, his introduction to the advertising community, influential players who had from which have pulled out their ads from Twitter after its turbulent takeover and the resultant sweeping changes he brought to the platform, not all of them having been received well. After a month, the writing on the wall seemed evident as Mr. Musk has decided to step aside from the CEO’s position to make way for his interviewer, hoping she could get back the lost advertisement revenue, and steer along with him, Twitter 2.0.
Mr. Musk made the announcement on May 12 in his characteristic way, by tweeting it out. While the embattled owner of the platform will continue to focus on new product design and will transition to the posts of executive chair the Chief Technology Officer, he said he was bringing on Ms. Yaccarino to “focus primarily on business operations”.
Ms. Yaccarino, born into an Italian-American Catholic family, studied liberal arts and telecommunications, graduating from the Pennsylvania State University in 1985. She spent more than a decade at the ComCast-owned media giant NBCUniversal before stepping down recently from her last role as the global head of advertising strategy across television and digital properties. Incidentally, NBCU is also where she began her career as an intern. Before her job as the advertising chief, she spent about two decades in various roles at Turner Entertainment, which is now owned by Warner Bros Discovery.
Rising through the ranks of the media industry over the decades and becoming a power broker, she is now famously known in advertising circles as the ‘Velvet Hammer’, for her affable but assertive style of negotiation in consensus-building and cracking deals. At NBCU, as her LinkedIn profile says, she oversaw a team of 2,000 workers that was responsible for generating over $100 billion in ad sales. While at NBCU, she also oversaw a recent deal with Twitter for digital rights for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
She is known for playing a transformational role in the ad industry, pushing for changes on several fronts, including advocating for relying less heavily on Nielsen ratings for audience measurement and introducing a digital platform called One Platform that makes it easier to buy ads across a variety of different media.
Notably, Ms.Yaccarino’s ties to the agenda-setting body World Economic Forum (WEF) have not sat well with some of Mr. Musk’s fans inclined toward conspiracy theories; the billionaire recently criticised the WEF for increasingly becoming “an unelected government”. Ms. Yaccarino currently serves as the Chair of WEF’s Future of Work taskforce and is a member of its Media, Entertainment, and Culture Industry Governors Steering Committee.
Besides, Troubled waters
Liberal Twitter users worry about Ms. Yaccarino’s conservative leanings; some went on to point out how she had “liked” tweets by Florida Governor and Republican Ron DeSantis. She also served a two-year term in the Donald Trump administration on his Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition. Right-leaning followers of Mr. Musk, on the other hand, have also expressed unease as Ms. Yaccarino partnered with U.S. President Joe Biden in 2021 to create a coronavirus vaccine campaign featuring Pope Francis.
The media industry insider is stepping into her role at Twitter at a time when the company is short of three-quarters of its workforce, thanks to Mr. Musk’s layoff-spree after taking over last year, and when the platform’s popularity has been affected due to the sweeping changes introduced by the Tesla owner. Users have noted the change in the platform’s atmosphere owing to Mr. Musk’s absolutist free speech agenda, while Twitter has also faced outages. Most significantly, the company has seen its ad sales revenue fall from $5 billion to $2.5 billion since last year, after advertisers pulled out their money owing to the billionaire’s moves such as reinstating controversial accounts and the drastic relaxation of content moderation policies, fearing that their ads would end up next to objectionable posts.
While some analysts have called Ms. Yaccarino a “home-run hire”, expressing confidence in that she would be able to bring back the lost revenue, others have pointed out that bringing ads back won’t solve all of post-Musk Twitter’s problems, unless the leadership addresses the reason why advertisers took away their business in the first place.
Importantly, the reasons behind the loss of trust with marketers include Mr. Musk’s conscious dismantling of Twitter’s influence council, which created a feedback mechanism for advertisers. In his bid to make Twitter a public “town square”, he also shut down the firm’s tech and safety team, which implemented policies to protect the health of conversations on Twitter.
While Ms. Yaccarino has expressed her support for Mr. Musk’s free speech requirement, she did try during last month’s interview to get him to commit to re-establishing the feedback and content moderation chains, while also asking him to subject his own tweets as the CEO to higher scrutiny. However, whether she is able to restore balance at the currently limping microblogging site and bring Twitter back to its previous version, industry watchers say, all depends on how much control Mr. Musk is ready to cede.