Could the advertising chops of Twitter’s new CEO turn revenues around?

NBCU’s ad sales chief left the company days before upfronts to join the platform.
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Variety/Getty Images

· 5 min read

Four days before NBCUniversal is slated to present to Madison Avenue, the advertising world is abuzz with the news that Linda Yaccarino, its longtime ad sales chief, is exiting the TV world to head up Twitter.

Kelly Metz, managing director of advanced TV activation at Omnicom Media Group, was quick to admit it to Marketing Brew: “That’s all we’re talking about this morning!” she said.

But the excitement is more than just a high-profile job change. NBCUniversal is in the middle of trying to lock in millions in advertising dollars as upfronts kick off, while Twitter seems to be struggling to manage its advertising and subscription businesses. There are more than a few outstanding questions, including how Yaccarino’s departure may affect NBCUniversal’s upfronts strategy, and how much her arrival at Twitter may help the company turn its struggling advertising business around.

“I’m bullish on this being, possibly, a positive turning point for Twitter and its ad business and recouping some of the advertiser losses that they’ve experienced,” Christopher Spong, supervisor of social media and communications at the performance marketing agency Collective Measures, told Marketing Brew. Emphasis on possibly. 

Turn this ship around?

Yaccarino has served as NBCUniversal’s chair of global advertising and partnerships for more than 11 years, building a vast network of advertisers and relationships across the industry, which could help “bring some maturity back to the ad business” at Twitter, Spong told us.

Other marketers were also optimistic. “I can say that she would be my first choice, and my only choice, to save the platform from the hands of its owner,” ad exec Lou Paskalis tweeted.

Twitter could use the help. The platform’s ad revenue is forecast to decline 28.6% to $1.68 billion this year, according to Insider Intelligence, and many blue-chip advertisers have jumped ship since Musk purchased (and gutted) the company last October.

Twitter has faced ongoing content moderation issues on the platform, including everything from rising rates of hate speech to animal torture videos, which have further damaged the platform’s attractiveness to many big advertisers. Tucker Carlson said he’d take his show to Twitter this week, a move that only underscored concerns about brand safety on the platform, and Spong told us he figured there’d need to be “a pretty sweeping change and rebuilding of trust” for many national advertisers to consider coming back to the platform in a big way.

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There’s another hurdle to clear: Striking the right balance between limited content moderation, as Twitter owner Elon Musk has repeatedly expressed a preference for, and the requirements of advertisers, who generally favor moderation that keeps platforms free of potentially brand-damaging content.

“What [Musk] means by free speech is really just allowing anything to go, and advertisers are seeking moderation and more brand safety,” Spong said. That might lead to tension down the road, he predicted.

“We can anticipate some public headbutting in the future,” he said.

Costume change

Hindsight is twenty-twenty, and Yaccarino’s public appearances with Twitter owner Elon Musk at advertising conferences and agency events perhaps make her jump less of a surprise. Even so, as of Thursday afternoon, when rumors of her move began to swirl, Yaccarino was apparently in the midst of “back-to-back” rehearsals for the upfront, an NBCUniversal spokesperson told Variety.

Only a weekend away from NBCUniversal’s planned Radio City Music Hall presentation to advertisers, the network is now grappling with a logistics challenge: Who will take her coveted spot on the upfronts stage and in discussions with advertisers?

The answer, it seems, is longtime NBCUniversal exec Mark Marshall, the head of ad sales across NBCUniversal’s national media properties, who has been tapped to serve as ad sales chairman on an interim basis, and Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBCUniversal Television and Streaming. Marshall will report into Lazarus, NBCUniversal announced Friday. Buyers are expecting that Marshall in particular will have an outsize role in the presentation, which is slated to kick off on Monday at 10:30am.

“Our understanding is that Mark [Marshall] was taking the majority of the show anyway,” Metz said. An NBCUniversal spokesperson declined to comment on the record about how Yaccarino’s departure will affect its upfront presentation.

Often, more important than the show is the negotiating behind the scenes, and Metz told us she expects that NBCUniversal’s considerable ad sales leadership team is more than equipped to handle the many conversations and negotiations with advertisers and agencies to nail down pricing and ad inventory—even without their former leader at the helm.

“I hate to say it,” Metz said, “but I don’t think NBC is gonna skip a beat.”

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