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Five years ago, just days before she led NBCUniversal’s upfront pitch on the stage of Radio City Music Hall, Linda Yaccarino addressed the crowd at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Video Symposium in New York City.
In a critical address, she took aim squarely at the big social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube over data breaches and brand safety concerns. “We are feeling really great about where NBCU is. We feel confident talking about where we are, because there are a lot of companies feeling a lot worse,” Yaccarino, then NBCU’s top advertising and partnerships executive, told the crowd at Convene in midtown Manhattan. “It is no secret that a lot of our social media friends are under quite a microscope — some of us would say, under fire. It is a classic case of, ‘Fool me once, shame on you; fool clients and consumers over and over again, and something needs to be done about it.’”
TV and NBCUniversal, Yaccarino argued, are “premium content.” The stuff on the platforms of the tech giants? Not so much. “It is something we don’t have to think about, and our clients don’t have to think about,” she said. “But for clients that don’t have this content, or the brands that have no idea what their ad is running next to, unfortunately this time is cause for great alarm.”
Now, Yaccarino finds herself in the position of running one of those social media giants. She will be doing so as advertiser concerns around brand safety are at seemingly an all-time high, with those concerns being exacerbated by the unpredictable behavior of Twitter’s leader, Elon Musk.
Multiple sources who have worked with Yaccarino over the years say they are not surprised that she would jump at the opportunity. The exec is known for her charismatic stage presence and tough negotiating tactics. Inside NBCU, she expanded her portfolio over time, ultimately assuming oversight of all advertising and partnerships for the company and structuring her division as a small company in its own right, complete with a designated CMO, technology division and multiple presidents reporting up to her.
Given her stature at NBCU, it’s possible that Yaccarino may have seen the writing on the wall after NBCU parent Comcast made it clear that the company was in no rush to replace its recently ousted CEO Jeff Shell, who was fired in April due to an “inappropriate relationship” with a CNBC journalist. “If NBCU is a sale or spinoff target in the next year or two, her future may have been uncertain anyway,” a source speculates.
And Twitter, while it may not be the platform it once was, still carries an estimated $20 billion valuation, higher than that of, say, Paramount, which has a market cap of $10 billion. But Yaccarino will have to be the adult in the room who’s tasked with reestablishing and growing Twitter’s advertising business, which has seen a major decline since Musk took over in October.
According to the analytics firm Sensor Tower, Twitter’s top 10 advertisers spent $7.6 million on ads at the beginning of the year — down from the $71 million spent between September and October. Of the top 10 categories for U.S. ad spending, six saw a double-digit year-over-year decline in spending during the first quarter of this year, with the auto category seeing the largest drop of 92 percent, per Sensor Tower.
In April, Insider Intelligence also slashed its forecast for Twitter’s 2023 ad revenue by $2 billion to $2.98 billion, with the cuts attributed to Musk’s leadership, which has resulted in mass layoffs, product glitches and ham-fisted rollouts of policies — the latter two of which may also have contributed to the 3 percent decline in daily active users during the first quarter of this year, according to estimates from Sensor Tower.
“The single biggest problem with Twitter’s ad business was Elon Musk. As he steps back, Twitter can begin to unravel Musk’s personal brand from the company’s corporate image and attempt to regain trust among advertisers,” Insider Intelligence principal analyst Jasmine Enberg notes. “It’s difficult to imagine that the new CEO could be more controversial or damaging to Twitter’s ad business than Musk has been.”
At NBCUniversal’s upfront event on May 15, the biggest laugh came at the expense of Twitter when the Seth MacFarlane-voiced Ted made a joke about the service “letting all the crazies back in,” referring to the unbanning of controversial users. A media buyer seated near THR laughed and then told their colleague, in a “what did she get herself into” tone, “Oh Linda.”
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