When Elon Musk announced last May the appointment of Linda Yaccarino as CEO of the company I will always call Twitter, few people outside the media industry had any idea who she was. Now, just a few months later, the former head of advertising at NBCUniversal has become the cause of outrage over Musk’s erratic, reckless and in many cases disgusting behavior, even as he made it impossible for her to do so. Achieving the mission of making Twitter an attractive place for advertisers.
Through it all, Yaccarino has generally presented herself as oblivious to Musk’s behavior and its impact on the company she at least nominally leads — behavior so maddening that she’s been dragged onto the very platform she’s supposedly running.
According to those who have worked for or with Yaccarino in the past, the Twitter job gave her the opportunity to fulfill a long-standing ambition: to rise to the level of CEO. They say they believe her self-esteem made her believe she could manage Musk despite his entrenched reputation as an agent of chaos. After finding that she was unable to do so, these sources say, it is not new that Yaccarino insists on presenting things as she wants them to be, and tries to choose her own adventure despite the very obvious obstacles in the way. (Yaccarino declined to comment for this article.)
This is where I pause to reveal that I’ve tweeted at or about both Musk and Yaccarino at times when Musk’s behavior has reached a new peak of toxicity and her response, or lack thereof, has remained exasperatingly obtuse. After many of Musk’s statements, I tagged Yaccarino in a tweet, asking, “Does this make advertisers feel safe?” When Yaccarino made a disastrous appearance at the Code conference in September, she felt the same doubt that many others felt when she dodged questions about Musk’s behavior. (CNN’s Reliable Sources newsletter noted that she seemed “completely divorced from reality.”) At the time, Musk was threatening to sue the Anti-Defamation League for allegedly costing the site advertising money. Yaccarino said she wished it were different but expressed disappointment that the Anti-Defamation League did not acknowledge “all the progress” the platform is supposed to make in combating anti-Semitism. She fired off an angry tweet: “This woman is either extremely stupid or mentally ill.”
Since then, Yaccarino has been unable to improve Twitter’s perception among advertisers; As Musk intensified his attack, companies like NBCU, Apple, and Disney fled in droves. Even Paris Hilton’s entertainment company suspended its advertising campaign on the site, a month after it announced an exclusive partnership with Twitter that includes live video broadcasting and commerce. (“The queen of pop culture, music, business and TV is #Sliving on X,” Yaccarino tweeted at the time.)
Yaccarino was even the subject of a sketch on November 20 Jimmy Kimmel Live. After mentioning the problems plaguing the site, Kimmel said he decided to reach out to the CEO. “Everything is going well,” said the woman playing Yakarino. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
By now, Yaccarino has become one of the most famous CEOs in America, if not for the reasons he would like. Amid all the hype and controversy, prominent voting rights attorney Mark Elias posted: “I’d never heard of Linda Yaccarino before she joined X, but was she that ridiculous in her last job?”
According to several former colleagues at NBCU, the answer is no. Although many describe her as a difficult and volatile boss or colleague, they say she was an extremely hard-working and capable advertising sales executive. Advertisers – whom she was always flirting with, of course – also praised her. In mid-November Forbes Marketing leaders were urging Yaccarino to resign, she reported. Axios “The advertising community is now working to salvage the reputation of a beloved member of our industry who does not share Elon Musk’s views,” Lou Pascalis, founder and CEO of marketing consulting firm AJL Advisory, was quoted as saying.
In fact, it’s unclear what Yaccarino thinks of Musk’s views; After his Nov. 15 tweet endorsed an anti-Semitic trope as “the actual truth,” she touted the site’s “efforts to combat anti-Semitism and discrimination.” (Her views on Donald Trump are more explicit. Her associates say she was an ardent supporter. She was appointed to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition during his administration.)
Based on conversations with multiple sources who worked with or for Yaccarino at NBCU, “likable” is not a word many would use to describe the way she was seen internally. “It was good for ad sales, but it destroyed the culture,” says one former insider. “She was not collectivistic. She was a scorched-earth manager.” Sources say there were many hirings, firings and reorganizations. “Stability is very important for success, but her reign was marked by instability,” says another source. “You can count on a reorganization once or twice.” in the year.”
Several former partners say Yaccarino sometimes seemed to have a flexible relationship with the facts at the firm. When reaching out to her, one of them says, “Not only did you have to email her, but you also had to imitate others [because] Even though she had it, she would deny it.” At times, the confusion seemed understandable, this character continues: “Her organization was very large, and she had a lot of direct reports. I’ve taken too much. She didn’t know how to delegate.
Yaccarino was free to engage with the advertising community, his former colleagues say, free to make claims that no one would check for accuracy. One example: In 2018, NBC announced it would cut the number of ads on its TV networks by 20 percent and charge advertisers a premium for the remaining spots. After advertising giant Dentsu complained that the commercial load had not been reduced as promised, Yaccarino responded by freezing the agency for several months.
“She quite masterfully navigated the world of alternative facts,” says one of her former aides, adding that at Twitter, “the audience would dissect every word, and she never had to deal with that.” “She was in a very protected bubble at NBC,” says another source. “Her image was very carefully scripted. Her whole life was journalistic strategy.”
Several of Yaccarino’s former associates say she was determined to rise to the CEO level, something that clearly wasn’t going to happen at NBCU. “I don’t think she has the skills to be CEO,” says one of her former colleagues. “It can’t do a simple mission statement. It’s not transparent. It doesn’t have the facts at hand. It doesn’t create a positive culture. It takes rejection personally.”
Although it may seem obvious that Musk may be more than a handful, a former colleague says, “Her ego was as big as the building we were working in. I really think she felt like she could handle it.” One agrees Other NBCU veterans: “She let her ego get the best of her. She thought she could control him. “It was a level of ego and arrogance that you rarely see.”
In April, a month before her appointment, Yaccarino interviewed Musk at an industry conference in Miami. “The entire staff has been preparing for this at least a few weeks in advance,” says an NBCU insider. “I think she felt like it was an audition to work with him.” (At one point I asked, “Have I taken away the risk or opportunity to make it happen?” [advertisers’] Expeditions land in these terrible and hateful places? Musk responded that Twitter had “neighborhood controls” that enabled marketers to prevent their ads from appearing next to “anything remotely negative.”
The meticulous preparation for the Miami event was not repeated a few months later, when Yaccarino, as CEO of Twitter, took to the stage at the Code Conference for an interview with CNBC’s Julia Boorstin. “The Code Conference was an unmitigated disaster,” says a former NBCU executive. “Linda was used to talking to people about topics that she knew were cold. She could talk about advertising forever. She got up at Code thinking she could charm people. She decided to wing it and it was really bad. And then this person says, ‘I’ve She was kind of desperate. “I thought it would be a friendly forum,” she said. I have known Julia for years. Yes, I wanted to feed my ego a little. It was just a mistake. “
The bad news for Twitter has only intensified in the days since Musk’s incendiary November 15 tweet reinforced an anti-Semitic trope. (It remains to be seen whether his recent trip to Israel will change anything.) New York times mentioned An internal document revealed that more than 100 brands had “paused their advertising completely” while dozens more were “at risk”, which could lead to a loss of $75 million by the end of the year. (The company has disputed the accuracy of those numbers.) The newspaper reported that in a meeting with employees, Yaccarino did not mention Musk’s post, blaming the company’s problems on a report from the watchdog group Media Matters alleging that ads from companies like IBM, IBM, and Apple appeared alongside posts promoting For white nationalist and Nazi content. Twitter has now filed a lawsuit against Media Matters.
After Yaccarino tweeted doubts that the ads had been placed alongside pro-Nazi content, tech journalist Kara Swisher tweeted: “Denial is not a river in…never mind, I’m completely missing the narrative.”
But an NBCU executive monitoring the chaos says Yaccarino’s see-no-evil attitude is what he expected. “In her mind, she’s committed to this,” he says. “I’ve seen a comment that she needs to leave. She’s not listening to any of that. She has this way of blocking out the negative and almost speaking her mantra until it becomes the truth. Or she thinks that’s the truth.”
Alex Weprin contributed to this report.
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe
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