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Twitter’s appointment of Linda Yaccarino as CEO signals the social network’s desire to win back brands

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Linda Yaccarino will be Twitter’s new CEO, bookending a decades-long career in the TV landscape, and heralding the era of “Twitter 2.0” when the platform’s new leadership will attempt to woo back marketers.

Key to success in her new role will be rebuilding Twitter’s relationship with marketers that fled ever since its owner Elon Musk took charge of the social network and controversially rolled back the social network’s earlier content moderation policies.

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Twitter’s controversial owner Musk confirmed the veteran executive as his successor in a Tweet posted the same day (May 12) as she resigned from her position as global chair, advertising & partnerships, at NBCUniversal, a role she held for more than a decade.

One senior industry source noted how both Musk and Yaccarino were present at WPP’s Stream conference hosted in Napa, CA., early last week where the ad agency network hosted some of the most powerful figures in the industry.

Meanwhile, a separate source, who similarly declined to be named told Digiday that Yaccarino has been rumored as a potential successor to Musk at Twitter since January’s CES conference. 

Notably, Musk and Yaccarino also shared the stage at the inaugural Possible conference in Miami, FL., last month where the free-speech advocate highlighted Twitter’s content adjacency tools in front of a room packed with advertisers.

Several attendees told Digiday they were unconvinced that Musk was aware to the full extent of such advertisers’ concerns, albeit the arrival of Yaccarino – who backed the “freedom of speech, not freedom of reach” mantra – should go some way to addressing such concerns.

Amid a wave of speculation as to the direction of Twitter’s new leadership, Musk confirmed Yaccarino will assume the role “in six weeks” (coinciding with the key advertising conference Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity) when he will also transition to the role of chief technology officer and executive chairman. 

Lori Hall, co-founder and head of creative at multicultural marketing agency Pop’N Creative (who formerly worked with Yaccarino at Turner Broadcasting, now WarnerMedia) described Yaccarino as a “game-changer” with a “tough reputation” that can take Twitter in a new direction.

She added, “If he [Musk] wanted to still have the ultimate power, he wouldn’t have brought Linda on as CEO because she’s not a figurehead… she’s a giant in our industry, and she’ll exert her power as such.” 

Arresting the advertiser exodus

Marketers’ concerns have primarily centered upon brand safety given Musk’s vocal advocacy for freedom of speech, a stance that falls some way short of most marketers’ demands for content moderation on platforms hosting user-generated content. 

Dave Campanelli, chief investment officer at Horizon Media, told Digiday that Yaccarino’s leadership should assuage some marketers’ concerns over the social network as an advertising medium.

He further added, “Linda definitely understands how the agency and client relationship with sales works, something that’s been lacking at Twitter lately…

Twitter’s advertising spend will decline 28% in 2023
Insider Intelligence in April 2023

“The changes there haven’t been very ad friendly. But if nothing changes around the content moderation and brand safety side of things there, what she can bring to Twitter won’t be of any help.”

Household-name brands from multinational corporations including Coca-Cola General Mills, General Motors, Microsoft, and Pfizer have either reduced or halted their spend on the social network since Musk’s tumultuous takeover

According to Pathmatics data, advertising spend on the platform plummeted from around $156.6 million last October, to just $76.9 million in April 2023, with Insider Intelligence further forecasting Twitter’s 2023 ad revenues will decline 28% year-on-year to hit $2.98 billion.

David Cohen, CEO of IAB, informed Digiday the new leadership team Additionally, has the opportunity to broaden its appeal to mid-to-longtail advertisers, an avenue it began exploring last month by forcing its remaining advertisers that fell below specific spend thresholds to pay additional premiums.

Although, he warned that Yaccarino “has significant work to do in restoring [large] advertiser trust” and that “a renewed sense of responsibility around brand safety and suitability as opposed to free speech at all costs” is necessary. 

“Linda brings to Twitter a tremendous track record of partnership, innovation, and results… she also has incredibly deep relationships with marketers,” he said, adding that, “the IAB looks forward to collaborating with Linda.”

A track record of change

Pop’N Creative’s Hall, noted how her time working with Yaccarino in the past has a proven track record of changing the status quo when required. This is an undertaking she championed in changing how ad effectiveness is measured during her time at NBCUniversal while also advocating a move away from the upfront model of selling ad space.

“If the norms don’t work for her, she rewrites the rules to make sure her brands win,” she added. “Anyone can be an advertising sales exec, but there’s only one Linda Yaccarino, and her name speaks for itself.”

Separately, NBCUniversal confirmed Mark Marshall, currently president of ad sales at the broadcast network, as Yaccarino’s interim replacement, a key move given how it is scheduled to host its annual upfront programming presentation on May 15.

Michael Burgi and Krystal Scanlon contributed to reporting on this post. Words by Ronan Shields.

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