Twitter’s New Chief Eases Into the Hot Seat

When Elon Musk announced last month that he had hired Linda Yaccarino as Twitter’s chief executive, he said he was “excited” to bring on someone who could “focus primarily on business operations.”

But just over three weeks into her new job, Ms. Yaccarino, the former head of advertising at NBCUniversal, has been prevented from working on a key component of what she was hired to do: drum up advertising for Twitter.

Ms. Yaccarino, 60, has spoken with some of Twitter’s advertisers about unsavory content on the site, four people with knowledge of the conversations said. But she has not engaged in public hobnobbing and hands-on negotiating with advertisers to increase Twitter’s revenue.

That’s because a contractual agreement with NBCUniversal prevented Ms. Yaccarino — at least initially — from working on advertising deals that would conflict with the interests of her former employer, three people familiar with the arrangement said.

It is all part of an adjustment as Ms. Yaccarino settles into her new role and reports to a new boss. After working for traditional media organizations in New York for decades, she is now helping to lead a San Francisco-based social media company that has undergone rapid changes under Mr. Musk, who bought Twitter last year.

Restricted from hammering out advertising deals, Ms. Yaccarino has instead repaired at least one relationship, between Twitter and Google; talked with regulators; and focused on employee morale. She has held happy hours and tried rallying workers with mission statements and more internal communication.

“Twitter is on a mission to become the world’s most accurate real-time information source and a global town square for communication,” she wrote this month in her first companywide email, which The New York Times obtained. “We’re on the precipice of making history.”

Twitter did not make Ms. Yaccarino, a longtime Madison Avenue power player, available for an interview. A person close to her said the noncompete clause extended only for her first few weeks at Twitter, while another said it was difficult for NBCUniversal to enforce. The clause’s expiration date was unclear.

Mr. Musk did not respond to a request for comment.

Ms. Yaccarino began as Twitter’s chief executive on June 5. Two days earlier, the native Long Islander and longtime New Yorker tweeted a photo of the Manhattan skyline with the message: “Bay Area views coming soon!” She took at least one NBCUniversal colleague with her to Twitter.

Mr. Musk had not made a companywide announcement about Ms. Yaccarino’s hiring at Twitter, three employees said. Instead, in an email to the company’s sales team before Ms. Yaccarino started, her appointment was the second bullet point below an update about a new feature for advertisers.

Ms. Yaccarino quickly struck an upbeat note at Twitter.

At an internal ad sales meeting on June 12, she addressed the state of Twitter’s advertising. Mr. Musk had removed guardrails at the site, allowing misinformation and toxic content to flourish and deterring brands from advertising. The company’s U.S. ad revenue has fallen nearly 60 percent, and Mr. Musk has said he expects revenue this year to be around $3 billion, down from $5.1 billion in 2021.

Ms. Yaccarino acknowledged that some “big brands” had stayed away from the platform, according to a recording of the meeting that The Times obtained, and said she and other sales employees would have to engage in “hand-to-hand combat” to persuade them to return. She did not mention her inability at the time to discuss ad deals with clients.

Ms. Yaccarino also said she would take a different position from Mr. Musk’s rocky relationship with the media. Her strategy, she said, is to “have very good relationships with them so they become our advocates or mouthpieces to amplify our strategies.”

But Ms. Yaccarino also made it clear that she knew who was in charge. She referred to Mr. Musk, who was not in attendance, as “the boss.”

Two days later, Ms. Yaccarino met with Twitter’s investors and lenders in San Francisco alongside Mr. Musk, a person familiar with the meeting said. Together, they presented their plans for the company to focus more on video, work with influencers and news publishers, and integrate payment capabilities. Reuters reported earlier on the presentation.

While Ms. Yaccarino’s noncompete clause with NBC held her back from major advertising discussions, she stayed busy.

David Cohen, the chief executive of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group, said that he had emailed with Ms. Yaccarino and that she had been on “a kind of fact-finding tour.” She is leveraging her relationships in the advertising industry to discern where Twitter stands on issues such as how to keep ads away from objectionable content, he said, adding, “She’s definitely listening.”

Yet when Publicis Groupe, one of the world’s largest advertising agencies, held a conference in Paris on June 16, its chairman interviewed Mr. Musk without Ms. Yaccarino, who was in San Francisco. During the trip, Mr. Musk also lunched with Bernard Arnault, the founder of LVMH, the world’s largest luxury company and a major advertiser.

Ms. Yaccarino also did not appear last week at the Cannes Lions advertising festival, a glittering networking event on the French Riviera that is often considered the apex of the ad industry calendar. Twitter significantly scaled back its spending and presence there compared with previous years.

Still, Ms. Yaccarino tweeted that she was soliciting feedback from Cannes attendees. “I’m here for ALL of it!” she wrote.

She had remained in San Francisco at Twitter’s headquarters, where she hosted a European Union delegation led by Commissioner Thierry Breton. The group was testing whether Twitter’s content moderation systems would comply with a new European law, the Digital Services Act, that holds social platforms responsible for policing illicit content and disinformation. It goes into effect in August.

Ms. Yaccarino has made progress in some areas, including helping to mend Twitter’s relationship with Google. That relationship frayed under Mr. Musk when Twitter partly stopped paying Google for cloud computing services. Twitter owed Google more than $42 million in unpaid invoices and was trying to stop its use of Google’s products by the end of June, according to an internal memo obtained by The Times.

Ms. Yaccarino spoke this month to Thomas Kurian, the head of Google Cloud, to resolve the issue and ordered the bill paid, a person familiar with the conversation said. She also persuaded Mr. Musk to embrace the new developments, the person said.

Google declined to comment. Bloomberg News reported earlier that Twitter had resumed paying Google.

Ms. Yaccarino has also tried reaching out more to Twitter’s work force, which has shrunk more than 75 percent through layoffs and other departures since Mr. Musk bought the company. Twitter framed a copy of one of her motivational tweets about “wearing 4 inch heels” while working as an executive and hung it in a dining common area in the San Francisco office. She has also held happy hours there and in New York, four current and former employees said.

And she has been relentlessly optimistic in her conversations, two of those people said. In her meeting with the sales team this month, Ms. Yaccarino said Twitter had an “opportunity that comes out of being challenged the last bunch of months.”

“Point me in the right directions,” she said. “I know what it’s going to take.”

Source link