Linda Yaccarino kept NBC’s advertising business humming through a decade of disruption with a simple, compelling pitch: Platforms like YouTube and Twitter are unsafe for brands.
As CEO of Twitter, she’ll have to make the exact opposite argument to many of the same marketers. She’s making two bets. First, that her deep relationships in the ad industry will help her persuade them to ignore what she spent the last decade saying. And second, that Musk — who told her in an on-stage interview last month that his commitment to a raucous, wide open platform won’t change — will also bend to her will.
In 2016, she touted how much more engaged audiences were with television than Facebook or Youtube. In 2017, she mocked former Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s comments that they have the equivalent of a Super Bowl every day on cell phones in terms of reach. Yaccarino held up her phone and “exaggeratedly swiped the screen without breaking eye contact. ‘Does this look like a Super Bowl? This is not a Super Bowl.’” She told the Hollywood Reporter that the ability to control content quality gave them an advantage over digital rivals, saying brands liked that their ads would not air alongside controversial video clips online.
“Let’s be honest: Brand safety is a low bar, and some companies can’t even get that right,” she said onstage at NBC’s upfronts presentation in 2017, referring to her digital rivals. “It’s really about the lack of discipline — from a gigantic large-cap company — and the loss of trust. It’s going to take a long time to regain that trust.”
“We’re the only place that consumers can actually completely trust,” she said in an interview at last year’s upfronts.
Yaccarino is a larger-than-life figure in the ad industry who once referred to herself as the Kim Kardashian of NBCU. Her hire could be a lifeline for Twitter, which effectively abandoned its core advertising business when Musk arrived without successfully pivoting to a new one.
But Yaccarino’s ascent may say as much about NBC as about Twitter.
Her move comes at an awkward time for the media giant. She’s leaving just weeks after the abrupt departure of CEO Jeff Shell over a workplace relationship, and it has sidelined her during the most important week of her year, right before the company’s annual upfront pitch to advertisers. The New York Times reported that Yaccarino was in rehearsals for NBC’s annual upfronts presentation when Musk posted a tweet about hiring a new CEO, and hadn’t informed many fellow NBC execs that she would be leaving.
Yaccarino’s hiring was part of a months-long courtship by Musk that included public praise and attempts by both parties to help mend fences between Musk and prominent ad execs.The courtship began well before Yaccarino conducted an on-stage interview at the POSSIBLE marketing conference in April in Miami, in which she praised Musk as a hard worker, a supporter of free speech, and someone making Twitter safer for advertisers.
Behind the scenes, Yaccarino was already in some ways working to help Musk.
Last month, I revealed how prominent marketers on the organization’s board who privately expressed concerns about being associated with Musk given his recent inflammatory comments about race and political issues and hard rightward turn. I contacted the marketing association hosting the event for the story — but instead heard back almost immediately from Yaccarino’s team at NBCU, who provided a statement pushing back on the upcoming piece and downplaying the idea of fissures within the organization over Musk’s appearance.
People within NBCU were not surprised that Yaccarino had her eyes on the top job at Twitter. Two people familiar with her former ad exec’s thinking said she was disappointed that she was not taken seriously as a candidate to replace either Shell or Steve Burke when he stepped down as chairman of NBCU in 2019. Internally, Yaccarino was seen as one of the most important parts of the company’s business. But while she attempted to expand her duties into other divisions including cable, she was ultimately unsuccessful, limiting her growth within the company.
“She was a victim of her own success,” one former NBC executive who worked with Yaccarino said. “They really counted on her to bring in ad revenue. Someone else in that position you’d rotate around the company to prepare for a larger role.”
Yaccarino’s stature reflects her and NBC’s success at holding their ground through a complicated period in recent years. The 59-year-old ad executive spearheaded the One Platform advertising hub which consolidated advertising across various parts of the company like NBC, Bravo, Peacock, and its digital properties. After nearly two decades working in ads sales for Turner broadcasting, she joined NBCU in 2011 as the head of its cable and digital ad sales division, and was quickly elevated into the top job as the company’s global chair of ads and partnerships.
She’s also a rarity in advertising: She’s an unabashed conservative, Fox News consumer, and fan of former President Donald Trump.
Two people familiar with the incident recalled that in 2016, Yaccarino asked to attend a candidate forum in New York hosted by NBC News in which both Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared. It wasn’t unusual for company executives to desire face time with Clinton. It was, however, notable to staff that one wanted to be up close to Trump.
Room for Disagreement
Yaccarino and NBC have reached some sort of detente with tech companies, her allies say. One shared a March profile in Ad Age which showcased partnerships that she had formed with Google and Facebook. NBCU has also partnered with Twitter for years.
“Linda has shifted the entire strategy at NBCU to form partnerships with all the platforms,” an ally of hers said.
- Yaccarino updated her Linkedin profile over the weekend, and confirmed that she was set to join Twitter in the coming weeks. “I see I have some new followers…I’m not as prolific as @elonmusk (yet!), but I’m just as committed to the future of this platform,” she wrote on Twitter. “Your feedback is VITAL to that future. I’m here for all of it. Let’s keep the conversation going and build Twitter 2.0 together!”
- Hours after Trump slammed NBC on Twitter in 2018, he appointed Yaccarino to his sports and fitness council.