Who is Linda Yaccarino? What to know about the 'velvet hammer' ad exec Elon Musk named Twitter CEO
Elon Musk is welcoming a veteran ad executive to the helm of Twitter, which he has been running since he bought it last fall.
Musk announced on Friday he was hiring Linda Yaccarino to be the new CEO of the social media platform, which is now called X Corp. He said Yaccarino's role would be centred on running the company's business operations, leaving him to focus on product design and new technology.
Yaccarino is a longtime advertising executive credited with integrating and digitising ad sales at NBCUniversal. Her challenge now will be to woo back advertisers that have fled Twitter since Musk acquired it last year for $44 billion (€40.6 billion).
Yaccarino said in a tweet on Saturday she had been inspired by Musk's vision to "create a brighter future".
"I'm excited to help bring this vision to Twitter and transform this business together!" she tweeted.
Yaccarino also serves as chairman of the World Economic Forum’s Taskforce on the Future of Work. Here’s what to know about her.
A veteran advertising executive
Yaccarino, 60, has worked as an advertising executive for decades. She came to NBCUniversal in 2011, just as Comcast was completing its merger with NBC, and oversaw integrating the companies' ad sales platforms.
There, her most recent title was chairman, advertising and client partnerships. She oversaw all market strategy and advertising revenue, which totalled nearly $10 billion (€9.2 billion), for NBCUniversal’s entire portfolio of broadcast, cable and digital assets.
Before that, she held a variety of roles at Turner Broadcasting System Inc. from 1996 to 2011, including executive vice president and chief operating officer. That was after she held management positions at several media sales outlets.
“She’s a marketer’s leader,” said Mark DiMassimo, founder and creative chief of ad agency DiGo.
“She speaks CMO and she understands what marketers need," he added, referring to the role of chief marketing officer.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Yaccarino's hard-nosed negotiating style even earned her the nickname the "velvet hammer" in the advertising industry.
Yaccarino has pushed the ad industry for change on several fronts, including advocating for relying less heavily on Nielsen ratings for measurement and introducing a digital platform called One Platform that makes it easier to buy ads across a variety of different media in an effort to better compete for ads against social media companies and traditional media companies.
“It’s worth noting that they built out a big team that’s made a lot of innovative products and supported the growth that they’ve experienced,” said Brian Wieser of strategic advisory firm Madison and Wall.
“They’ve been pushing the industry on a lot of fronts, you know, trying to make it better”.
“I think that first and foremost, she’ll bring to Twitter an understanding of what advertisers need to see to get back on the platform from the brand safety perspective,” said Dave Campanelli, chief investment officer of media buying firm Horizon Media.
“She knows better than anyone what it’s going to take and I think for advertisers and buyers, the question really is, is she going to have free rein to do all that or is it going to be just the same old, same old (with Musk)”.
In April, Yaccarino and Musk met for an on-stage conversation at a marketing convention in Miami Beach, Florida.
The discussion was cordial, although both participants drew some distinct lines in the sand.
On a few occasions, Yaccarino steered the conversation toward issues of content moderation and the apparent proliferation of hate speech and extremism since Musk took over the platform. She couched her questions in the context of whether Musk could help advertisers feel more welcome on the platform.
At one point, she asked if Musk was willing to let advertisers “influence” his vision for Twitter, explaining that it would help them get more excited about investing more money: "Product development, ad safety, content moderation - that's what the influence is".
Musk shut her down. “It’s totally cool to say that you want to have your advertising appear in certain places on Twitter and not in other places, but it is not cool to try to say what Twitter will do," he said. “And if that means losing advertising dollars, we lose it. But freedom of speech is paramount”.
When Yaccarino asked Musk if he planned to reinstate the company's “influence council,” a once-regular meeting with marketing executives from several of Twitter's major advertisers, Musk again demurred.
“I would be worried about creating a backlash among the public,” he said. “Because if the public thinks that their views are being determined by, you know, a small number of (marketing executives) in America, they will be, I think, upset about that".
Musk went on to acknowledge that feedback is important, and suggested Twitter should aim for a “sensible middle ground” that ensures the public “has a voice” while advertisers focus on the ordinary work of improving sales and the perception of their brands.
Pressing Musk on his own tweets
Musk didn't pass up the opportunity to sell the assembled marketers a new plan to solve Twitter's problems with objectionable tweets, which the company had announced the day before.
Musk called the policy “freedom of speech but not freedom of reach," describing it as a way to limit the visibility of hate speech and similar problems without actually removing rule-breaking tweets.
Yaccarino took a swing. “Does it apply to your tweets?” - Musk has a history of posting misinformation and occasionally offensive tweets, often in the early morning hours.
Musk acknowledged that it does, adding that his tweets can also be tagged with “community notes” that provide additional context to tweets. He added that his tweets receive no special boosts from Twitter.
“Will you agree to be more specific and not tweet after 3 am?" Yaccarino asked.
“I will aspire to tweet less after 3 am,” Musk replied.