Linda Yaccarino, NBCUniversal’s head of publicity, was preparing to interview Elon Musk, the owner of Twitter, onstage at a conference last month when she received an email from a fellow advertising industry.
Rob Norman, a former executive at advertising giant WPP, wanted to know if Ms Yaccarino had seen the opinion piece he wrote after Musk took over Twitter last year. Mr. Norman’s column discussed the tech billionaire’s amplification of disinformation on Twitter and its chilling effect on advertisers.
Ms Yaccarino said yes and she planned to raise such concerns, Mr Norman said. But the main focus of his talk with Musk would be on something else: his efforts to revamp the social network in “Twitter 2.0.”
Now, Ms. Yaccarino will become the face of Twitter 2.0. Musk said Friday that he has selected Mrs. Yaccarino, 60 years old, to become the CEO of the company. Hours earlier, NBCUniversal had announced that Ms. Yaccarino would be leaving, effective immediately, without saying where she was headed.
“I’m excited to welcome Linda Yaccarino as the new CEO of Twitter,” Musk tweeted. He said she would primarily handle business operations while he would continue to work on product design and technology.
By selecting Ms. Yaccarino, Mr. Musk is signaling what he’s prioritizing at Twitter: the company’s advertising business, rather than social media savvy. Ms. Yaccarino has been one of Madison Avenue’s influencers for decades. And Twitter, which makes most of its revenue from ads, has been struggling to grow that business, especially after Musk scared advertisers last year.
“Linda is a force,” said Joe Marchese, a former director of ad sales for Fox Networks Group, where she competed with Yaccarino for marketing dollars. “She has one of the biggest jobs in advertising, and the advertising market is as tough as ever.”
However, Yaccarino will have to do more than deal with Twitter’s advertising woes. The San Francisco company has been severely downsized since Musk cut 75 percent of its workforce and has dealt with experience gaps and technical glitches. Twitter is also saddled with a $13 billion debt load it took on to allow Musk to buy the company.
Most significantly, Ms Yaccarino would have to deal with a fickle and unpredictable boss in the form of Mr Musk. Musk, 51, has a history of firing executives who fail to achieve his goals. He sometimes tweets news about his companies, including electric car maker Tesla, without warning. And as the owner of Twitter, Musk retains absolute power in the company.
Lou Paskalis, a longtime advertising executive and friend of Ms. Yaccarino, likened her move to Twitter to taking a “step into the lion’s den.”
“With his stature in the industry as probably one of the most liked and trusted people on the revenue side, I wonder why he would put himself through that kind of potential reputational risk,” he said. “If she fails on paper, then there’s probably no way for Twitter to survive as an ad-supported platform.”
Ms. Yaccarino did not respond to requests for comment, but said in the NBCUniversal statement that working at the company “has been an absolute honor.”
This is a developing story and will be updated.
John Koblin contributed reporting from New York.