It's not clear how long Elon Musk has known Linda Yaccarino, or how long he's been courting her to be the new CEO of Twitter. But it's pretty clear from the hiring decision that Musk knows advertising is going to be key to Twitter's future viability.
Musk announced on Thursday that he'd be stepping back into more of a CTO role in about six weeks and bringing on a new female CEO, but he didn't immediately provide a name. Meanwhile, Comcast NBC Universal chief ad sales exec Linda Yaccarino was making her own announcement about her departure.
And then on Friday morning, Musk made the more complete tweet-announcement, saying that Yaccarino "will focus primarily on business operations, while I focus on product design & new technology." Musk added, "Looking forward to working with Linda to transform this platform into X, the everything app."
Analysts have so far embraced the news, as CNN Business reports, vis a vis Tesla's stock price. One Wedbush analyst, Dan Ives, already wrote in a note to clients Friday morning, "We believe Musk leaving CEO of Twitter earlier than originally thought … is a positive development for Tesla as well as SpaceX with Musk needing to spend more and more time on these golden child platforms rather than Twitter."
Tesla's stock was still trading down today, but wariness from Tesla investors was likely one motivator in speeding up the process of finding a new CEO for Twitter — something Musk earlier had indicated might take until the end of the year.
Whether Yaccarino will get to wield real power and control at Twitter remains to be seen, and CNN points to Tesla CEO Robyn Denholm as being seen as an "in-name-only" chief executive who didn't even speak at a recent investor day event for Tesla.
But if nothing else, Yaccarino's expertise in the ad sales and "global partnerships" world will likely boost Twitter's bottom line after seven months in which Musk has done his level best to scare off major advertisers.
Musk and Yaccarino appeared together at a keynote session at a recent ad-industry conference in Miami — the same one where someone paid to have a banner flown by plane over the conference venue that said "Musk Is Bad for Business #StopToxicTwitter." The title of the session was "Twitter 2.0: From Conversations to Partnerships."
The New York Times refers to Yaccarino as "one of Madison Avenue’s power brokers for decades," and points out the obvious trouble ahead, in that she will "have to deal with a mercurial and unpredictable boss in the form of Mr. Musk."
A friend of Yaccarino, longtime ad exec Lou Paskalis, compares the career move to a "step into the lion’s mouth." He tells the Times, "With her stature in the industry as probably one of the most beloved and trusted people on the revenue side, I question why she would subject herself to that kind of potential reputational risk."
The Times also reports that a colleague, Rob Norman, had asked Yaccarino if she was familiar with the November op-ed he penned headlined "Elon Musk's Biggest Problem on Twitter May Be Its Advertisers," and she said she was. In the piece Norman predicted that Musk would "enable the inflammatory, provocative and sometimes verifiably untrue speech of others," and that this was a sure-fire way to send advertisers running for the hills.
So, if and how Yaccarino can reign in the "free-speech absolutism" that Musk says is foundational to his vision of Twitter will now be the biggest question.
Twitter users who are fans of Musk and unfettered "free speech" have been swift in their condemnations, perceiving Yaccarino to be a likely censor in Twitter's future. Also, the tweets are flowing about Yaccarino being associated with the World Economic Forum (WEF) — she lists that she has been an executive chair of the organization since January 2019. And the Musk fans are quick to point back to Musk's January tweet — which is great fodder for the conspiracy prone — saying, "WEF is increasingly becoming an unelected world government that the people never asked for and don’t want."
So, there's that — another potential conflict.
But no doubt the biggest challenge will be to reign in and/or realign Twitter itself to keep it from carrying the stink of far-right websites and platforms, where big-name advertisers are extremely averse to guilt-by-association condemnations.
As Norman wrote in his op-ed, "There is a group of publishers, mostly at the extreme right of the political spectrum, that almost all major advertisers have elected to bypass. Newsmax, One America News Network, Breitbart and The Epoch Times barely carry ads from Fortune 500 companies... [and when it comes to YouTube, TikTok, etc.] advertisers rely on technology to separate their messages from the darker corners of these platforms."
Top image: Linda Yaccarino and Terry Crews attend the Ad Council's 67th Annual Public Service Award Dinner at The Glasshouse on December 02, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Dominik Bindl/Getty Images)