For Yahoo’s Mayer, Size Does Matter

Eyes acqui-hires, small ad tech firms

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said during the company’s third-quarter earnings call that she was eyeballing relatively small acquisitions, describing potential deals as “something in the size and scale of double-digit millions and low hundreds of millions.” And despite chatter to the contrary, it sounds like Mayer’s sticking with the plan.

Several reports have Mayer kicking the tires on large ad tech firms like demand-side platform Turn and supply-side platform PubMatic, which would be attractive for their existing technology platforms and client relationships—but come with hefty prices. Instead Mayer is focused on smaller talent acquisitions, or acqui-hires, of companies in the range of 20 employees, according to two sources with knowledge of Yahoo’s plans. Mayer apprised agency execs of her acquisition plans in briefings during the recent Consumer Electronics Show, sources said. A Yahoo spokesperson declined to comment.

Smaller acqui-hires would certainly be an easier sell to Yahoo’s shareholders and board members. Multiple sources estimated that Turn would cost Yahoo between $700 million and $1 billion. “If Marissa tries to acquire something really big—unless it’s really compelling—it will be tough to get board approval,” said B. Riley & Co. senior analyst Sameet Sinha.

The acqui-hires would also be more in line with Mayer’s intentions to build up Yahoo’s mobile andprogrammatic selling talent base, sources said. During the company’s most recent earnings call, Mayer repeatedly stressed the importance of mobile and programmatic buying to Yahoo’s future. The latter focus would seem to require more engineering talent to bolster Yahoo’s internal inventory management capabilities. “With supply-side platforms walking away from Yahoo, the company [primarily] reps its own inventory at this point versus where it had been before,” said Jitka Petrickova, MEC’s managing partner for its West arm.

Part of the problem—and solution—may be Yahoo’s ad exchange Right Media. Top Yahoo execs are dissatisfied with Right Media, say agency sources, with specific gripes being a lack of communication between the exchange’s sales team and Yahoo’s direct sellers, as well as uncertainty over what to do with Right Media in the next month and a half. Last summer under interim CEO Ross Levinsohn (now CEO of Adweek parent Guggenheim Digital Media), Yahoo had been in talks with AppNexus and PubMatic, among others, about replacing Right Media, but those discussions fizzled when Mayer took over. Mayer made a public show of recommitting to Right Media in the fall.

Most analysts and buyers doubt that Yahoo would ditch Right Media at this point. But all agreed that investments in talent and tech are crucial for the company’s future.