Very briefly early in my career, my eye was caught was a bright, attractive young intern (if memory serves me right) at the last job I had in New York , a smart, savvy research analyst with an odd last name. She was introduced to me as Linda Yaccarino, which my warped young mind immediately grafted on to as “Yacco!!”. which I cheerily greeted her as. She feigned laughing at my attempt at humor, turned back to her estimates, and we rarely spoke. My work colleagues who worked more closely with her would continue to rave at how quickly she picked up on software programs and details, frankly, at a quicker pace than most paid employees were. When she eventually moved into sales management, none of us were surprised. We knew who she was, and had a good idea she’d become much more successful.
But I dare say none of us could have predicted that she would not only eventually rise to the top of her class as the head of NBCUniversal’s advertising portfolio, but, at the outset of her seventh decade on Earth, would become a worldwide household name by becoming, as her new boss Elon Musk once touted, the person “stupid enough to take the job” as Twitter’s CEO, as was announced by almost every business publication on Earth in the last two days. She will reportedly be paid in the vicinity of $20 million a year for her talents. We should all be so stupid.
Immediately, many of these publications expressed shock and openly speculated why Yaccarino would leave NBCU mere days before a crucial upfront season kicked off, especially to take a job with someone as polarizing as Musk with a platform as disparaged as Twitter has become since Musk plunked down $44 billion of his spare change for a shiny new toy late last year, one that he has used as a personal sounding board for what many perceive as damaging rhetoric, right-wing conspiracies and hatred, fired a substantial portion of his staff and chased away existing advertisers while concopting ill-fated schemes such as paid verifications. Some have even speculated that Yaccarino had telegraphed her intentions last month when she interviewed Musk and gave him the opportunity to articulate his vision, blurry as many pundits would insinuate. As Variety’s Todd Spengler recounted yesterday:
In what may have been an highly unconventional job interview, NBCUniversal ad chief Linda Yaccarino hosted a discussion with Elon Musk about Twitter’s content policies and approach to working with marketers at an industry conference one month before Musk announced that he’d hired her as the social network’s CEO. The April 18 keynote conversation was billed as a talk about Musk’s “Twitter 2.0: From Conversations to Partnerships” at MMA Global’s Possible marketing event in Miami.
Yaccarino told Musk that marketers want “protection for their ad campaigns,” with content moderation policies ensuring that “provocative speech” is properly labeled. She applauded Twitter’s announcement last month to promote “freedom of speech, not freedom of reach,” under which the company said it will limit the reach of tweets that violate policies concerning hateful conduct and violent speech.
“Have you de-risked the opportunity or chance of their campaigns landing in these awful, hateful places?” Yaccarino asked.
Musk said Twitter has implemented “adjacency controls” that let marketers block ads from appearing next to “anything that is remotely negative.” Apple and Disney have both remained major Twitter advertisers, according to Musk. The company’s brand-safety initiative is working, he claimed, otherwise “Disney would have pulled their ads [from Twitter] a long time ago and haven’t.”
Well, at least on the surface, that sounds like a plausible defense. And, frankly, even in failure, Musk is sitting on far more cash and potential than an overwhelming amount of the critics who continue to mock his defense of free speech for amplifying the likes of people who cheered in New Hampshire Wednesday night for an obese “Cyrus” who has attempted to launch his own version of Twitter and failed miserably.
Here’s my litmus test. A good CEO knows where they are strong and admits where they need help, and hires the best possible people to address those weaknesses. By bringing in someone with the sort of respect and track record that Yaccarino has, not to mention deep relationships with advertisers and brands, he has done just that.
There is no question she will have to work REALLY hard to land this out-of-control plane. Paresh Dave of WIRED penned an intriguing piece this morning laying out some of the challenges she will have:
As a long-time executive overseeing ad sales at global television giant NBCUniversal, she spent years fighting social media companies for the billions of dollars that advertisers divide up every year between old and new media.
The new Twitter CEO once joked publicly that families don’t gather around a newsfeed like they do around a big screen for Super Bowls and primetime shows. She chastised services like Facebook for “grading their own homework,” forcing ad buyers to trust a platform’s data on ad views instead of being able to go to independent auditors like those available for TV. And she has pointed out how internet companies have sometimes struggled to match the high-quality content produced by TV networks. At Twitter, Yaccarino will have to spin her knowledge of social media’s weaknesses into an asset and start competing with the traditional media industry that she has championed since long before online social networks were even a thing. Together, Yaccarino and Musk will try to stop the drain of users and advertisers of the past several months and start to formulate his vision of turning Twitter into an “everything app,” with digital payments tools and other features Musk has yet to clearly articulate.
Indeed, the company Yaccarino will be seeking advertising to has been quietly labeled “X”, much as Meta and Alphabet are the umbrella names for the larger and less politicized platforms she now competes with. And with the recent deals with Tucker Carlson and the Olympic content that Yaccarino brokered for her now former employer (along with a similar embracing of short-form digital media with an equally struggling platform, Snapchat), the door is open for X to be what Trump’s ill-fated TMTG+ was supposed to be–a video platform of scale where two-way communication, and an opportunity for ALL voices to give feedback, and feature content that isn’t exclusively news and politics–in real time is possible. There is certainly room for a competition akin to THE VOICE, a show Yaccarino generated billions for even as traditional ratings declined. Another attempt to do a real-time q-and-a competition, such as NBC’s overly ambitious MILLION SECOND QUIZ or the ill-fated HQ, could be ideal at a lesser prize point without the expense of a massive set and staging logistics.
And it’s not like Yaccarino hasn’t been able to deliver results for content that isn’t quite at the top of whatever chart of metrics she has sold against. Have you seen the types of ratings content besides Sunday Night Football does for NBC? Have you looked at ratings trajectories for USA? Individual show ratings for anything on Bravo or E? Actual saleable audience on Peacock and their whopping 20 million subscribers? Somehow, she found ways to find partnerships for all of that. And by embracing dozens of potential competitors to Nielsen, championing Comscore for local measurement and convincing advertisers to write deals using those alternatives, she is more than capable of finding legitimate third party measurement to answer any questions about self-graded report cards.
Many snarking observers have suggested the current corporate culture at Twitter is no more sane than the world of ANIMANIACS, a show I absolutely loved (still do) that featured its own Yakko and Wakko. Some have even insinuated that perhaps Yaccarino must share the same sort of viewpoints that those who disproportinately tweet these days offer, the kind Musk helps to amplify and defend with poop emjois. Even in what some now see in hindsight as a “job interview”, she had the ability to challenge Musk in that forum and even chide him maternally, as Spengler also reported:
Yaccarino alluded to Musk’s controversial comments (and urged him to stop tweeting after 3 a.m., which he pledged to strive to do). “I have to push you a little, because there’s a lot of folks in this room, they vote with their pocketbooks… but they can’t cross that transom. They have a challenge with your points of view, your opinions, and [they’re] still holding back from unlocking the full power of Twitter,” Yaccarino said.
Musk blamed “negative amplification in the media” for how some of his remarks have been portrayed, and he also criticized “traditional media” (which he claimed competes with Twitter for ad dollars) for perpetuating the notion that hate speech is rampant on Twitter.
Yaccarino may indeed be stepping into a hornet’s nest. But in recent weeks NBCU has been shaken by the loss of her equally auspiced colleague Jeff Shell (not to mention the Jezebel he had a long-term relationship with that took him down with her in the wake of her imminent departure) and rampant rumors that Comcast may be seeking a merger or a sale for her portfolio. Shell was pursuing a relationship with his former colleague David Zaslav and WBD many months ago, and reportedly Paramount and NBCU have quietly held talks about joining forces. Anyone who says you couldn’t put two broadcast networks under the same corporate ownership seems to forget that NBC once owned two radio networks, Red and Blue, with Blue eventually becomung ABC, and duopolies exist in local markets as insignificant as Wilkes-Barre-Scranton and Syracuse. There are some extremely qualiied people at Paramount, and many are younger than Yaccarino. Perhaps factors such as those may have impacted her choice?
Oh, and let’s not forget. $20M per year, plus stock options.
As the Warner siblings used to say, “Hello, nurse!!”
I can’t claim to know how Yaccarino may lean politically; my bad for never staying in touch as she rose to the pinnacle of her industry. But the fact that some are actually asking that question disgusts me. It is insulting that anyone critiquing her today would even insinuate she has to share Musk’s views. Peter Chernin raised millions for the Democratic party while running Rupert Murdoch’s FOX. Chernin didn’t exactly go broke doing that job, which he did brilliantly. I’m confident Yaccarino could be exactly what Musk–and, indeed, social media–needs to make themselves legitimate players in a fragmented landscape, particularly at a time when scripted content could be rare.
And, boy, would I love to have some role in it. At least in this case, age doesn’t seem to be a detractor to bringing in someone auspiced and good.
Good luck, Yacco. Er–CEO Yaccarino.