The signs in the lobby hallway at the Four Seasons read “Yahoo Presents, a Conversation with Yahoo.” But these weren’t any old conversations. These were recently installed CEO Marissa Mayer’s first interactions with bigwigs at the Publicises, Omnicoms and IPGs of the world. On this Wednesday in Las Vegas at the height of CES, Mayer didn’t wow the assembled agency royalty, though she didn’t disappoint anybody either.
First on everyone's mind was, naturally: what’s Yahoo’s plan, what’s Mayer’s grand vision? Well, she stopped short of laying out a dynamic five-year plan, but she did lay out some priorities. One, to no one's surprise, is getting Yahoo focused on being mobile. Another is fixing Yahoo’s back-end technology. Another is cleaning up the Yahoo brand stable.
Those were a few of the interesting nuggets Mayer revealed during her round of agency chats, during which she spoke for roughly 10 minutes before taking questions (despite the objection of some handlers, said sources).
• Yahoo has too many brands, and—without providing specifics—Mayer plans to trim that unwieldly list. One buyer noted that Yahoo Sports has a different brand name for its iPhone app. With Mayer’s emphasis on mobile, that could be a place to start.
• Given all the acquistions that Yahoo has made over the years, the company currently operates on 41 different tech platforms. One of Mayer’s priorities is to get that number down to one. “That’s been in the works for years,” said an observer. “That predates Mayer.”
Another buyer was optimistic about that endeavor. “Clients spend a lot of money making sure that the plumbing works in this medium,” he said. “Before, it wasn’t possible to track a single consumer across Yahoo properties. They have a lot of people they can now see consistently across properties.”
• Mayer is emphasizing Yahoo’s mission to bring “excitement and delight to everyday habits,” said one attendee. Well, isn’t that what a portal has always done? “It’s a bit of a time warp,” said one media buyer. “The examples are few and far between.”
Of course, Yahoo attracts millions to its Mail, Sports, Finance and Entertainment brands on a daily basis. But the thinking is that Yahoo’s targeting tech, coupled with a deeper partnership with Facebook and other social networks, will enable the company to automatically surface more content to users, content they didn’t know they were looking for—as well as better ads. “It’s hard to see how that’s going to work when I’m checking the weather,” said an executive.
Here’s one thing that Mayer didn’t talk about, to several ad executives' surprise: Yahoo’s actual ads. In fact, one holding company exec said that Mayer didn’t bring up Yahoo’s ad opportunities or products until asked about them. And at that point, she responded by offering more information on Yahoo’s products.
“In that way, she’s Google through and through,” said a top media executive.
“She’s still trying to make sense of it all,” said another. She didn’t commit any faux pas and she didn’t rock our world.”
Clearly, there’s a long way to go for Mayer. Turning around Yahoo is no easy gig. Buyers are generally patient, noting that the company is still bringing in billions in ad revenue. It’s just not accelerating at the rate of Google, Facebook and others.
“Advertisers don’t see the spark any more,” said one attendee. “Yahoo is low on the list and not just alphabetically.”