What advertisers want from Linda Yaccarino

As she prepares to take over as CEO of Twitter, Yaccarino’s ability to turn around the platform hinges on Elon Musk relinquishing control.

What advertisers want from Linda Yaccarino

Advertisers generally agree that Linda Yaccarino’s appointment as CEO of Twitter is  a good look for the platform. Some have said that her extensive experience and deep Rolodex in the ad industry could foster a safe environment for many advertisers that retracted from Twitter after Elon Musk took control last October.

But with her appointment going public just last Friday and many speculating that Yaccarino is the latest woman to be sent over the glass cliff, marketers are keeping a close eye on what both she and Musk do next. 

Leading executives told Campaign US that they’ll need to see the new chief tweeter take these key steps to bring Twitter back into adland’s good graces.

Take control

On Friday, Musk tweeted that Yaccarino will focus primarily on business operations as he takes on product design and new technology as chief technology officer and executive chair.

Yaccarino replied on Saturday stating that she’s excited to “transform this business together.”
 

While the duo have carved out distinct remits, a significant concern within the ad industry is the level of control that Musk will retain over Twitter’s products.

Ashwini Karandikar, EVP of media, tech and data at agency association the 4A's, sees overlaps between Musk’s and Yaccarino’s responsibilities given how tech-heavy Twitter’s business is.

“She is the CEO, but coming in to handle business operations. He is still going to be in charge of product design and tech,” she said. “Technically, Twitter is a technology platform. One of the key questions several execs on the buy side are going to have is ‘what will change after she comes in?’”

An underlying concern is that Musk, who is known for erratic behavior and regular U-turns, will make sudden changes to Twitter that unravel Yaccarino’s plans.

“That is the biggest concern right now — that no matter what she says, he [Musk] will Tweet things in the middle of the night and change things on the fly,” said Karandikar.

Dave Kersey, chief media officer at GSD&M suggested advertisers would like to see Musk “go behind the spotlight.”

“[Yaccarino] understands business and she's transformed NBCU, so if he [Musk] gives her the freedom and responsibility to do that, I think she can turn it around,” he said. “If she has a solid roadmap in place people will likely trust that and start reconsidering spend — but it doesn't take much to have all that undone.”

Also, both figures have strong personalities that lead some ad execs to anticipate a power struggle once Yaccarino begins making decisions — which will only add to the platform’s instability.

“He [Musk] is not going to keep quiet even after hiring her,” predicted Karandikar. “To some extent I see her role similar to what Carolyn Everson had to do at Facebook (now Meta) — constantly defending scandal after scandal, trying to placate advertisers that it was brand safe.”

If Twitter is to rebound as a stable platform for advertisers, both figures need to align on letting Yaccarino call the shots, said Martin Sorrell, executive chairman of S4 Capital.

“What’s necessary is that he gives her the freedom to implement,” he said. “She knows the advertising business. I’m not saying he [Musk] doesn’t, but he’s hired her to do that.”

Some media buyers who know Yaccarino expect her to have no issues taking control.

“I do not think Linda would take that position without having freedom to do what she felt she needed to do,” said Dave Campanelli, chief investment officer at Horizon Media.

Make Twitter safe

The biggest task Yaccarino will face is convincing advertisers that the platform is a safe place to market their brands.

Nearly two-thirds (61%) of Twitter’s top 100 advertisers either significantly reduced or completely cut their spend from the platform during the first quarter of 2023, according to Sensor Tower.

The retreat has come as a reaction to Musk’s relaxation of content moderation controls

“He's turned it into a platform that has no rules,” said Kersey. “Community standards need to be re-envisioned and reimagined. That's what I'm hearing from current clients and past colleagues around their dissatisfaction of where Twitter's gone — and most of them have stayed off from a spending perspective since the ownership takeover.”

Yaccarino understands this requirement — she will join Twitter from the “highly regulated” TV industry, where there are a number of rules around what can be said or done and rules which “attract viewers but also advertising dollars,” Kersey said.

One way that Yaccarino could improve Twitter’s brand safety reputation would be to evolve Twitter’s pre-bid adjacency control solution to go beyond keywords and handles and into more of a content-based solution, the head of social at a large media buying agency suggested.

She will also need to rebuild Twitter’s sales team — a large proportion of whom were laid off as part of Musk’s cost-cutting exercise — to assure advertisers their business is being looked after, suggested Campanelli.

The stakes are high because many brands which pulled spend from the platform have discovered that Twitter is not essential to their media plans, several media buyers suggested.

“Most brands aren't seeing any slump in their results from pulling from Twitter, and I don't know how many have invested that heavily, because if you're thinking of social platforms there are a few others that take the mindshare of spend,” said Kersey. “Right now, there's not a lot of need to be on Twitter.”

“Speaking with advertisers and agencies, they didn't really see a massive dip in results even after they moved budgets, so buyers can afford to wait to see what happens,” echoed Karandikar. “In comparison, if something like this happened on Google search, there would be much more urgency to get back.”

Yaccarino will have to balance improving brand safety parameters while maintaining Musk’s free speech vision for Twitter, which has seen the return of previously banned accounts and a rise in far-right speech. Twitter’s new direction was embodied last week by the announcement that Tucker Carlson — the former Fox News host who was abruptly fired last month reportedly over his extreme views — plans to relaunch his show on Twitter.

“What is unclear is who between them [Musk and Yaccarino] will make final decisions regarding policy and enforcement — as those issues can straddle both operations and product,” said Andrew LaFond, executive director of media and connections at R/GA. “It seems unlikely…that the nature of the right-wing game preserve that Musk is building will change. Maybe the product will improve and operations will run more smoothly, but if the culture of Twitter continues to slide toward red-pilled trollism, most advertisers will be reluctant to return.”

Others agree that Yaccarino is unlikely to walk back on championing free speech, which may or may not strengthen Twitter's reputation as a home for far-right ideologies. 

“They’ve both said that they believe in free speech,” Sorrell said. “[Musk’s] definition of free speech and hers might be two different things.”

“I think the free speech component is probably going to remain the same, but I still believe there needs to be some level of standards put in place,” said Kersey. “If you're trying to turn it into a revenue machine then you need brands to support it. That means they need to change their outlook a little bit on what they will and won't do or allow on the platform.”

Lean on cultural capital

At Twitter’s private Newfronts event earlier this month, the platform leaned heavily on its ability to drive large cultural conversations, especially around live events.

“Twitter has a disproportionate influence to its media weight,” Sorrell said, adding that Yaccarino should lean into this narrative.

Media buyers are confident that Yaccarino has the experience and contact list required to expand Twitter’s media offering. Yaccarino will join after a more than 11-year stint leading ad sales at NBCU, one of the largest broadcasters in the U.S. Prior to NBCU, she led ad sales at Turner for almost two decades.

“One of the great assets Linda brings is her very vast and broad portfolio of contacts,” said Bob Liodice, CEO of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA).

“Linda’s experience with TV and broadcast will be very helpful because it may allow Twitter to diversify into becoming a more stable business focused on good content, because Twitter for a while has been known as a troll network — even before Musk took over,” Karandikar said.

“A CEO with a deep media background certainly creates very good optics to start,” said Zachary Weinberg, VP of e-commerce at Reprise Digital.

Before she’s even taken up the role, Yaccarino has already lined up an extension of NBCU’s ad deal with Twitter for the upcoming Olympics that signals a renewed focus on premium media partnerships.

Brands could certainly be drawn back to Twitter to engage with audiences in real-time during big cultural events, but they will need assurances that their sponsorships will be “contained” in a safe bubble, said Kersey.

“For the type of brands that participate in the Olympics, the contextual relevance of where they show up on Twitter will still be one of the key questions and concerns,” agreed Karandikar.

Lisa Lacy contributed reporting.

 

Source:
Campaign US

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