If you worked in digital media during the mid 2000’s the recent fall of Yahoo! under Carol Bartz has been a sad spectacle to watch. Never before has so much goodwill across the buy side of the industry been squandered so quickly.
The house that Wenda Harris Millard and her sales and marketing team built for Yahoo! back in the 00’s is a big part of the reason why Yahoo! still gets the business it does. Every creative conference, every dinner, every industry event that Wenda and her team produced has paid dividends for Yahoo! long after she departed.
I once asked Jerry Shereshewsky, The Yahoo! Ambassador Plenipotentiary to Madison Avenue, the secret to Yahoo’s stock growth which at the time had tripled since the depths of the dot com bust. The fact that Yahoo! had an Ambassador to Madison Avenue should have been my first clue.
“It’s you guys, your agency and the big brands you represent. That’s why Yahoo! is doing well, because you spend with us,” he said to me simply.
There remains an aura around brands long after the people who put the halo there move on. For publishers that means IO’s continue to get signed and revenue flows in. But all memories, even institutional ones, eventually fade. Now Yahoo! is left wondering why things aren’t working like they once did.
While’s Bartz’s pugnacious style and Valley background did her no favors in the relationship-driven media business, Yahoo’s board certainly deserves some of the blame. Hiring a CEO to focus primarily on operations is a sure way to kill a digital media company. This is media, not manufacturing or aeronautics. Hire a COO if you need to fix operations. With thousands of companies fighting for the same brand dollars a media company CEO needs to focus on product and clients.
You would think that Yahoo! would have learned its lesson by now, but the company has selected its Chief Financial Officer to be its interim CEO. His first order of business is apparently to conduct a “comprehensive strategic review” which isn’t a good sign. How about meeting with your top one hundred clients and asking them how Yahoo! can be even more relevant to them? How about telling them that Yahoo! is committed to growing their business for years to come? Instead of burying yourself in a war room with charts and numbers get out there and lead by example. Show your employees what matters.
The digital media business is increasingly complex but ultimately straightforward. Provide marketers with a great product and make them want to do business with you over and over. Yahoo! doesn’t seem to understand the game its playing anymore.