Marissa Mayer has been running Yahoo for more than two years now. And it's starting to look like she might be dancing on the edge of the glass cliff.
The New York Times has a long piece on her tenure at the company, adapted from reporter Nicholas Carlson's upcoming book Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo. It's very thorough and pretty damn harsh. But the really interesting bits come when describing Mayer's efforts to turn Yahoo into a high-end content producer. Like most Internet companies, Yahoo is fundamentally in the business of selling ads; part of turning the company around required figuring out what they could best sell ads against. Mayer spearheaded several initiatives, including a wholly revamped email offering spruced-up search capabilities.
The piece suggests that Mayer, who comes from an engineering background and previously worked in the data-driven environs of Google, ran into trouble on the content front when she got a little too eager to turn Yahoo into something she wanted to read, rather than better serving their built-in audience:
While some at the company favored upgrading Yahoo's content, there was a fear that Mayer, who preferred to read Town and Country and wear Oscar de la Renta couture, might undermine the company's middle-American brand. To some, she also seemed to lack the instincts of a media executive. During a breakfast with Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of Vogue, Mayer asked if there might be any partnership opportunities between the magazine and Shine, Yahoo's site for women. According to Mayer's own telling of the story to top Yahoo executives, Wintour looked appalled.
Swing and a miss! Ultimately they recruited big names like David Pogue, Joe Zee and Bobbi Brown for splashy new "digital magazines," as well as hiring Katie Couric at a whopping $5 million a year, even though she'd previously produced a Yahoo series and "users didn't click on her videos, no matter how prominently editors positioned them on the page." All this while canning Yahoo Shine, which wasn't exactly a Conde Nast glossy but brought in $45 million annually, according to Carlson. Which isn't nothing.
And then there's this:
Even though the actress Gwyneth Paltrow had created a best-selling cookbook and popular lifestyle blog, Mayer, who habitually asked deputies where they attended college, balked at hiring her as a contributing editor for Yahoo Food. According to one executive, Mayer disapproved of the fact that Paltrow did not graduate college.
Look, it's not like Mayer inherited a rose garden and turned it into a shit pile. Yahoo's been wobbling for a long time now. But maybe a little delegation's in order.
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