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Twitter’s new CEO dreams of building an ad-seller’s paradise

Linda Yaccarino poses for a photo at the Legends Ball 2022 BravoCon at Manhattan Center in New York City. | Santiago Felipe/Getty Images

When Elon Musk chose NBCUniversal Media executive Linda Yaccarino to lead Twitter, the move suggested significant change for the San Francisco company, including the possibility of renewed focus on advertising. Since Musk bought the company, he has fired thousands of staff and blamed the ensuing exodus of advertisers on journalists, whom he sees as untrustworthy rivals to the more authentic voices of whoever wishes to post on the internet.

As a media industry insider frequently asked to opine on the future of the ad business, Yaccarino could reshape the company into something more amenable to advertisers that left Twitter en masse following Musk's moves such as limiting filters on hate speech in the name of free expression.

To get a better sense of what kind of future Yaccarino might have in mind for one of San Francisco’s most prominent companies, The Standard downloaded and listened to several of the media executive’s podcast appearances. As Yaccinario yakked on, we detected in her manner of thought possible futures for Twitter.

Yaccarino’s role at NBCUniversal was to lure and retain ad buyers, not to create programming. In the hours of interviews The Standard reviewed, we heard Yaccarino tout ad-business goals, such as more closely tracking customers, finding novel placements for advertisements and shunning things associated with the past, including newspapers.

In October 2019, for example, she made a point of explaining on Variety magazine’s Strictly Business podcast that when she said “reading the paper,” she meant scanning Twitter, not reading traditional newspapers.

“I don't want to sound like I do that in a traditional sense,” she said.

She shares with her new boss a tendency to look at the world broadly through an out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new lens.

Twitter Will Be Getting To Know You Better

Yaccarino’s favorite word seems to be “legacy.” She says it a lot, whether onstage with Elon Musk or in studios with podcasters. In a given podcast, the word may come up more than a dozen times.

When asked in November 2017 on the podcast Greetings From Adlandia to fantasize about eliminating aspects of her job, she said, “What would I kill? Any form of legacy.”

The future, Yaccarino tells various podcasters, consists of ever greater and more sophisticated tracking of individual consumers and their behavior. Anything less is Luddism.

“We're talking to the people who are going to live during the next year, and not the people that I'm fighting [with about] legacy bullshit,” she said on the Greetings episode. “Why do we still have the handcuffs of legacy? Whether it's legacy measurement, legacy process or legacy go-to-market conversations.”

Once “legacy” is killed off, it will be easier to compete with the likes of Google in reading consumers' minds and predicting which advertisements they might click on.  

“The industry standard for measurement is outdated but held in place by the weight of legacy,” she said on Ad Age magazine’s Ad Lib podcast in June 2019.

Twit-Chat? Twit-Tok? Twit-Feed?

During Yaccarino’s tenure, NBCUniversal either invested in, or partnered with, media companies such as Snap, Apple News, Vox Media and BuzzFeed. By bringing competitors into the fold, NBCUniversal could allow advertisers to choose from target audiences NBCUniversal did not reach. The company created a special team to sell these types of packages, tailoring different messages to different types of viewers, readers and listeners.

“The opportunity for some advertisers has been spectacular," Yaccarino said on the 2017 Greetings From Adlandia podcast. "So this year will do close to a half a billion dollars via our audience targeting platform. So it has nothing to do with a traditional rating and everything to do with what consumer segment are you trying to reach? What type of business outcome are you trying to achieve?"

Oversharing Is Caring

Listening to Yaccarino speak publicly for a couple hours, it’s possible to learn multiple details about her personal life. Does this mean Twitter will become more like Facebook?

  • At present, Facebook is the industry titan of oversharing. Could Twitter somehow compete?
  • Yaccarino loves shoes by Manolo Blahnik, the legacy fashion icon who began designing footwear in 1972. While discussing Yaccarino’s anti-legacy views on the 2017 Adlandia podcast, she was asked what she would buy to replace current ways of doing business.
    “Besides a new pair of Manolos?” she joked.
  • Her mother is very, very small and has a commanding personality. “She’s 4-feet-10, and weighs about 90 pounds, and she will take over the place,” Yaccarino said on the same podcast.
  • Yaccarino has a twin and, along with their other sister, they seem poised to take over the world. They’re all big shots, and they all have Zoom calls together every week to strategize about amassing even more power. “I also have two very successful, very educated sisters. One’s in the banking business, and one's in health care—she's a chief nursing officer. That's my identical twin. So they are very senior executives in very different businesses. And it's an extraordinary opportunity that I have to bounce things off of them because they have such different perspectives,” she said on the Adlandia podcast. "So I'm very lucky to have very, like, seasoned executives who I'm completely comfortable with.”

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