Jul 16, 2023, 8:51pm EDT
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Behind Twitter’s poop emoji PR

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The News

When Linda Yaccarino arrived at Twitter in June, she brought along one close aide from NBCUniversal, a loyal and sometimes divisive PR hand named Joe Benarroch.

Unlike a traditional CEO, Yaccarino doesn’t seem to have much control over the company’s product, much less its chairman. She and Benarroch haven’t been able to stop Elon Musk from tweeting about his penis, or from sending an automated poop emoji in response to inquiries.

But the poop emoji does, now, have a human face, as Benarroch often follows up on reporters’ inquiries, largely to defend Yaccarino’s image even if he can’t control Twitter’s.

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Know More

Yaccarino’s decision to bring the 44-year-old PR man with her from NBCU offers a glimpse into the gamble one of the ad industry’s biggest names has made with her career and reputation.

Benarroch joined NBCU in 2018 from Facebook, where he’d been a director of corporate comms marketing its advertising products. When he arrived at 30 Rock, he sought explicitly to make her a public figure along the lines of former Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg — an exception to the rule among Comcast’s low-profile executives, six people who worked with Benarroch at NBCU said.


Benarroch angled to get Yaccarino speaking engagements and panels, and his team regularly secured positive press in the advertising trades. His weekly update on his success, sent to dozens of NBCU communications staffers, prompted a mix of respect and eyerolls.

Yaccarino also spent heavily to polish her image internally and externally. While NBCU occasionally used Washington-based communications consultants West Wing Writers to punch up executive addresses at major corporate events, two NBCU insiders said Benarroch made the agency her unofficial creative writing team, enlisting the firm to punch-up media appearances, LinkedIn posts, and even internal memos.

Benarroch’s promotion of Yaccarino put him at odds with one of NBC’s most powerful figures, Executive Vice President Adam Miller, who oversees Comcast’s communications and is a close adviser to its top executives. Miller made no secret of his annoyance with Benarroch’s attempts to make Yaccarino a star, two people close to the company said.

Benarroch, in turn, filed at least two formal complaints to NBCU human resources that Miller was dismissive of Yaccarino, and suggested his attitude was connected to Yaccarino’s gender.

Benarroch was also particularly frustrated that NBCU didn’t pretend to consider Yaccarino for the CEO job in recent months when CEO Jeff Shell abruptly left the company. Benarroch and Yaccarino complained that Miller was waving journalists off the idea that Yaccarino would be CEO, though one person familiar with the conversations told Semafor that Miller had been dismissive of nearly all other internal candidates. (Miller declined to comment on his relationship with Benarroch.)


Benarroch was also the subject of complaints from junior colleagues. According to three people with direct knowledge of the incidents, he was the subject of an internal NBCU HR investigation following complaints made by his former assistant over his workplace behavior.

And as Yaccarino began angling for the CEO job at Twitter earlier this year, he wasn’t afraid to cross some company lines. When NBC News reporter Ben Collins tweeted about a Semafor story documenting advertisers’ concerns about Musk, Benarroch called to reprimand him, a rare instance of a business-side employee expressing criticism of a journalist’s editorial views.

Benarroch declined to comment on his time at NBCU or his new role.

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Max’s view

Benarroch and Yaccarino succeeded in elevating Yaccarino’s profile at NBC, and her iconic stature in the ad industry helped her get the top job at Twitter.

But their attempts to use the same tactics at Twitter so far have not worked, as she’s been unable to establish herself as the company’s true chief executive. She’s delivered the official message in a series of clunky tweets on a platform dominated by her boss’s politicized and profane stream-of-consciousness.


Benarroch has quietly attempted to implement a traditional press strategy: Since joining last month, he’s done outreach to reporters, spinning negative stories, and attempting to influence the narrative around the new CEO in the background. He confidentially shared her day one internal memo with tech reporters last month, and has flagged some of her noteworthy tweets.

But even Benarroch’s title is a reflection of attempting to placate Musk’s whims. Despite spending much of his time working the phone with reporters, he maintains a business operations title, the result of Musk’s dismissiveness of standard comms work.

Benarroch has pleaded with staff to keep conversations internal, sending around a memo last month telling employees to report leakers. The note promptly leaked.

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The View From Elon Musk

The Twitter CEO offered an update on the company’s business Saturday:

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  • Yaccarino, nicknamed “The Velvet Hammer, is a legendary figure on Madison Avenue, the Wall Street Journali reported in a profile.
  • Yaccarino has been handicapped by “a contractual agreement with NBCUniversal [that] prevented Ms. Yaccarino — at least initially — from working on advertising deals that would conflict with the interests of her former employer,” the New York Times reported.
  • Yaccarino is pushing toward a nuts-and-bolts plan to deliver marketers what they want, Ars Technica wrote. She’ll be “introducing a video ads service, wooing more celebrities, and raising headcount.”