When Elon Musk announced last month that he had hired Linda Yaccarino as CEO of Twitter, he said said he was “excited” to bring on someone who could “focus on business first and foremost.”
But now more than three weeks into her new job, Ms. Yaccarino, the former head of advertising at NBCUniversal, is unable to work on a key part of what she was hired to do: advertising for Twitter.
Ms Yaccarino, 60, has spoken to some Twitter advertisers about unsavory content on the site, four people with knowledge of the conversations said. But she hasn’t engaged in public hobnobbing and hands-on negotiations with advertisers to boost Twitter’s revenue.
That’s because a contractual agreement with NBCUniversal prevented Ms. Yaccarino — at least initially — from working on ad deals that would conflict with her former employer’s interests, three people familiar with the arrangement said.
It’s all part of an adjustment as Ms. Yaccarino settles into her new role and reports to a new boss. After working for decades for traditional New York media organizations, she now helps run a San Francisco-based social media company that has undergone rapid change under Mr. Musk, who bought Twitter last year.
Ms. Yaccarino was not allowed to make advertising deals, but has instead mended at least one relationship, between Twitter and Google; talked to regulators; and focused on employee morale. She has been holding happy hours and trying to rally workers with mission statements and more internal communication.
“Twitter is on a mission to become the world’s most accurate real-time source of information and a global communications hub,” she wrote in her first company-wide email, which reached The New York Times this month. “We’re about to make history.”
Twitter has not made Ms. Yaccarino, a longtime Madison Avenue power player, available for an interview. A person close to her said the non-compete clause was only valid for her first few weeks at Twitter, while another said it was difficult for NBCUniversal to enforce. The expiration date of the clause was unclear.
Mr Musk did not respond to a request for comment.
Ms. Yaccarino started as CEO of Twitter on June 5. Two days earlier, the native Long Islander and old New Yorker tweeted a picture of the Manhattan skyline with the message: “Bay Area views coming soon!” She took at least one NBCUniversal colleague to Twitter.
Mr. Musk had not made a company-wide announcement about Ms. Yaccarino’s hiring on Twitter, three employees said. Instead, in an email to the company’s sales team before Ms. Yaccarino started, her appointment was the second bullet point below an update on a new feature for advertisers.
Ms. Yaccarino was quick to hit a happy note on Twitter.
At an internal ad sales meeting on June 12, she spoke about the state of Twitter’s ads. Mr Musk had removed guardrails on the site, allowing misinformation and toxic content to flourish and preventing brands from advertising. The company’s advertising revenue in the US is down nearly 60 percent and Mr Musk has said he expects revenue to reach around $3 billion this year, up from $5.1 billion in 2021.
Ms Yaccarino acknowledged that some “big brands” had stayed away from the platform, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by The Times, saying she and other sales associates would have to engage in “hand-to-hand combat” to convince them to return to turn. She did not mention at the time that she was unable to discuss advertising deals with clients.
Ms Yaccarino also said she would take a different stance to Mr Musk’s rocky relationship with the media. Her strategy, she said, is to “have very good relationships with them so that they become our advocates or mouthpieces to reinforce our strategies.”
But Ms. Yaccarino also made it clear that she knew who was in charge. She referred to Mr. Musk, who was not present, as “the boss.”
Two days later, Ms. Yaccarino met with Twitter’s investors and backers in San Francisco along with Mr. Musk, a person familiar with the meeting said. Together, they presented their plans for the company to focus more on video, partner with influencers and news publishers, and integrate payment options. Reuters previously reported on the presentation.
While Ms. Yaccarino’s non-compete agreement with NBC kept her from big advertising discussions, she kept busy.
David Cohen, the general manager of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group, said he had emailed Ms. Yaccarino and that she had been on “some sort of research tour”. She leverages her ad industry affiliations to determine where Twitter stands on issues such as how to keep ads away from offensive content, he said, adding, “She’s definitely listening.”
But when Publicis Groupe, one of the world’s largest advertising agencies, held a conference in Paris on June 16, the chairman interviewed Mr. Musk without Ms. Yaccarino, who was in San Francisco. During the trip, Mr. Musk also with Bernard Arnault, the founder of LVMH, the world’s largest luxury company and a major advertiser.
Ms. Yaccarino also failed to appear last week at the Cannes Lions advertising festival, a dazzling networking event on the French Riviera often regarded as the pinnacle of the ad industry’s calendar. Twitter has significantly scaled back its spending and presence there compared to previous years.
Still Mrs Yaccarino tweeted that she asked for feedback from visitors to Cannes. “I’m here for EVERYTHING!” she wrote.
She had stayed in San Francisco at Twitter headquarters, where she received a delegation from the European Union led by Commissioner Thierry Breton. The group was testing whether Twitter’s content moderation systems would comply with a new European law, the Digital Services Act, which makes social platforms responsible for monitoring illegal content and disinformation. It starts in August.
Ms. Yaccarino has made progress in some areas, including helping to repair the relationship between Twitter and Google. That relationship petered out under Mr. Musk when Twitter partially stopped paying Google for cloud computing services. Twitter owed Google more than $42 million in unpaid invoices and attempted to stop using Google’s products in late June, according to an internal memo obtained by The Times.
Ms. Yaccarino spoke to Thomas Kurian, the head of Google Cloud, this month to resolve the issue and ordered the bill to be paid, a person familiar with the conversation said. She also persuaded Mr. Musk to embrace the new developments, the person said.
Google declined to comment. Bloomberg News previously reported that Twitter had resumed paying Google.
Ms. Yaccarino has also been trying to reach out more to Twitter’s workforce, which has shrunk by more than 75 percent through layoffs and other departures since Mr. Musk bought the company. Twitter framed a copy of one of hers motivational tweets about “wearing four-inch heels” while working as an executive and posted it in a common dining area in the San Francisco office. She has also held happy hours there and in New York, four current and former employees said.
And she’s been relentlessly optimistic in her conversations, two of those people said. During her meeting with the sales team this month, Ms. Yaccarino said Twitter had an “opportunity that came from the challenge of the past few months.”
“Point me in the right direction,” she said. “I know what it takes.”