Linda Yaccarino is Twitter’s new CEO, Elon Musk confirms

Linda Yaccarino, NBCUniversal’s head of advertising, was preparing to interview Elon Musk, Twitter’s owner, on stage at a conference last month when she received an email from a colleague in the advertising industry.

Rob Norman, a former executive at advertising giant WPP, wanted to know if Yaccarino had seen the comment he wrote after Musk bought Twitter last year. Mr. Norman’s column discussed the tech billionaire’s amplification of misinformation on Twitter and its chilling effect on advertisers.

Mrs. Yaccarino said she had and that she planned to address such concerns, Mr. Norman said. But the main focus of her conversation with Mr. Musk would be on something else: His efforts to revamp the social network into “Twitter 2.0.”[ads1];

Now Yaccarino will become the face of Twitter 2.0. Mr. Musk said on Friday that he had chosen Yaccarino, 60, to become the company’s chief executive. Hours earlier, NBCUniversal announced that Yaccarino was leaving, effective immediately.

“I am pleased to welcome Linda Yaccarino as the new CEO of Twitter,” Mr. Musk tweeted. He said she would mainly handle business operations while he would continue to work on product design and technology.

By choosing Ms. Yaccarino, Mr. Musk signals what his priority is on Twitter: the advertising business rather than social media savvy. Yaccarino has been one of Madison Avenue’s power brokers for decades. And Twitter, which makes the bulk of its revenue from ads, has struggled to grow its business, especially after Mr. Musk scared off advertisers last year.

“Linda is a force,” said Joe Marchese, the former head of advertising sales at Fox Networks Group, who has known Yaccarino for at least a decade. “She has one of the biggest jobs in advertising, and the ad market is as tough as it’s ever been.”

Still, Yaccarino will have to do more than grapple with Twitter’s advertising woes. The company, which is based in San Francisco, has been severely slimmed down since Mr. Musk cut 75 percent of its workforce and has struggled with gaps in expertise and technical failures. Twitter is also weighed down by $13 billion in debt that it took on to enable Mr. Musk to buy the company.

The most important thing is that Ms. Yaccarino had to deal with a mercurial and unpredictable boss in Mr. Musk. The 51-year-old billionaire has a long history of firing managers who do not meet his goals. He sometimes tweets news about his various companies, which also include electric car maker Tesla, without warning. And as Twitter’s owner, Mr. Musk retains absolute power in the company.

Mr. Musk already overruled Ms. Yaccarino’s carefully laid plans when he tweeted on Thursday that he had chosen a new Twitter chief, though he did not identify her. Yaccarino, who was in back-to-back rehearsals for NBC’s annual pitch to major advertisers when the tweet went out, had not informed many of her fellow executives that she plans to leave, four people with knowledge of the matter said. .

Lou Paskalis, a longtime advertising executive and friend of Yaccarino’s, compared her move to Twitter to taking a “step into the lion’s mouth.”

“With her status in the industry as probably one of the most loved and trusted people on the revenue side, I question why she would expose herself to that kind of potential reputational risk,” he said.

Mr. Musk and Ms. Yaccarino may be betting that there is a lot of upside with Twitter 2.0. Mr. Musk has laid out ambitious plans for the company, telling employees it could be worth $250 billion one day and that the platform could be an “everything app,” with features like payments. (He recently said Twitter is worth $20 billion, down from the $44 billion he paid for it.)

Yaccarino has already been working on his priorities on Twitter. A person who has spoken to her in recent days said she is focused on repairing the company’s relationship with Madison Avenue and wooing media companies back to the platform, potentially with partnership deals.

And she and Mr. Musk appear to be aligned on policy issues — such as a more permissive approach to speech on Twitter — that are central to his vision for the platform, two people familiar with her views said. She is a conservative and a critic of so-called woke discourse, a term used by conservatives to describe elements of left-wing social progressivism they see as censorious, they said.

Former President Donald J. Trump twice appointed Yaccarino to two-year terms on the President’s Council on Sports, Exercise and Nutrition, where she joined future Republican politicians such as Mehmet Oz, the celebrity doctor.

Yaccarino, who did not return requests for comment, grew up with working-class Italian parents in Long Island, New York, including a father who was a police officer. She went to Catholic school. After graduating from Pennsylvania State University in 1985 with a telecommunications degree, she spent nearly 20 years at Turner Entertainment, becoming executive director of advertising sales, marketing and acquisitions before leaving for NBCUniversal in 2011.

At Turner and NBCUniversal, Ms. Yaccarino — who has been said to negotiate like a “velvet hammer” — made a name for himself by helping traditional TV survive advertising in the age of Facebook and Google. Every year, she took the stage at Radio City Music Hall for the upfront presentations, the glitzy showcases used by television networks to woo Madison Avenue, to persuade marketers to pay a high premium over social media to advertise on shows like ” This Is Us” and “Saturday Night Live”.

But while Yaccarino has spent years defending TV ad dollars from tech companies and has been a vocal critic of Facebook and YouTube, she has also partnered with apps like Snapchat and TikTok and digital outlets like BuzzFeed.

Outside of work, Yaccarino became heavily involved in initiatives, including the World Economic Forum’s Taskforce on the Future of Work, which she chairs. She also chaired the Ad Council, a nonprofit group, and helped the group raise $60 million in three months early in the pandemic to counter vaccination hesitancy, making private calls, sending memos and “working every lever she had,” Lisa Sherman said , the council’s chief executive.

It is unclear when Ms. Mr Yaccarino met Mr Musk, but they interacted publicly on stage at a media conference last month at the posh Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel in Florida. Yaccarino had previously expressed admiration for Twitter, calling the platform “the single, No. 1 largest” content distribution partner for NBCUniversal at an advertising industry event shortly after Mr. Musk took over the company. At the time, she added that she did not plan to “bet against him” and that she thought he could “learn advertising”.

“I think we can teach him,” she said.

This week Ms. Yaccarino was present when Mr. Musk spoke at an advertising conference in California’s Napa Valley hosted by WPP, three people familiar with the event said.

Yaccarino would be a rare female CEO in tech, as top executives such as Meta’s Sheryl Sandberg and YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki have recently left their roles. Throughout her career, Yaccarino has often said she has been the only woman at the table and has described incidents of bias, such as the time a male supervisor complained in an otherwise flattering performance review about her aggressiveness: “I just wish she would stop using her high heels like a weapon.”

While Yaccarino is active on Twitter, her habits are sedate compared to Mr. Musk’s, but in recent weeks she has liked dozens of posts by and about him.

Still, the differences between Mr. Musk and Ms. Yaccarino made this clear last month at the media conference in Miami. A polished Ms. Yaccarino made prepared remarks. An unshaven Mr. Musk spent a few moments arguing with his toddler son, X Æ A-12, before joining her and offering sometimes halting answers to her questions.

Yaccarino repeatedly returned to concerns her industry peers have voiced since Musk took control of Twitter, stressing several times that the audience of ad executives was critical to the company’s financial success.

Mr. Musk said that “there are legitimate concerns that advertisers have that I want to hear.” He recounted a complaint he had heard from David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, which was frustrated that it couldn’t place ads for “White Lotus,” the hit HBO show, alongside discussions about “White Lotus” on Twitter.

The issue has since been resolved, Musk said.

Yaccarino replied, “So it’s a new beginning.”

John Koblin contributed reporting from New York.

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