Nov 19, 2023 - Business

Marketing leaders urge X CEO Linda Yaccarino to resign

Linda Yaccarino speaks onstage during Vox Media's 2023 Code Conference at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel on Sep. 27, 2023, in Dana Point, Calif. Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox Media

Brand chiefs and marketing leaders have reached out to X CEO Linda Yaccarino to push her to resign, sources told Axios.

Why it matters: "The issue is no longer about content adjacencies or content moderation. It's simply that the owner is not someone marketers can do business with," said Lou Paskalis, founder & CEO of marketing consultancy AJL Advisory and former head of global media at Bank of America.

Driving the news: Paskalis said he texted Yaccarino on Sunday afternoon and urged her to leave "before her reputation is damaged."

  • Another high-level brand source echoed his concerns, and said they have heard of several marketing leaders who have sent Yaccarino similar notes.
  • "I think the advertising community is now working to save the reputation of a beloved member of our industry who does not share Elon Musk's views and certainly did not know them when she accepted the role of CEO. If she did, she would not have accepted it," Paskalis said.
  • Prior to joining X, formerly known as Twitter, Yaccarino led NBCUniversal's advertising business for more than a decade. In her time at NBCU, she had developed a reputation as one of the most savvy advertising leaders in the industry and cultivated a large network of brand chief allies.
  • Forbes first reported that marketing leaders were urging Yaccarino to resign.

Sources told Axios that Yaccarino, who assumed the position as CEO of X in July, is not considering stepping down, for now.

  • Yaccarino was attending her daughter's wedding this past weekend while the drama was unfolding.
  • X did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

State of play: Over the past few days, scores of marketers — including Yaccarino's former employer, Comcast/NBCU — have said that they would suspend their ads from X after Musk backed an antisemitic conspiracy theory.

The other side: Musk defended himself Sunday, posting on X, "This past week, there were hundreds of bogus media stories claiming that I am antisemitic. Nothing could be further from the truth. I wish only the best for humanity and a prosperous and exciting future for all."

Between the lines: For the past few months, marketers have grappled with whether they could trust X as a brand-safe platform, given that the firm under Musk's ownership had pulled back on trust and safety operations.

  • Yaccarino has introduced a slew of brand safety controls for advertisers, and inked a new partnership with brand safety firm Integral Ad Science to help advertisers make sure their ads don't appear next to questionable content.

Yes, but: Those milestones, marketers told Axios, don't matter if advertisers have to consider whether their ad dollars support the owner of a platform who is endorsing antisemitic posts.

  • Musk, Paskalis said, "has made it impossible [for Yaccarino] to succeed in her mission to return advertisers to the platform with his rash of retweets of blatantly antisemitic posts."

Between the lines: Another issue for advertisers is X's creator program, which shares ad revenue with users who have a big enough following.

  • Advertisers have grown wary of ways their ad dollars may be funding creators who post questionable content, sources told Axios.

The big picture: X, while still a dominant platform for global conversations, doesn't have the scale necessary to make it a "must-buy" for most marketers, making the decision to pull their ad dollars much easier in the wake of Musk's comments.

Our thought bubble: The risk marketers now need to assess when placing ads on X is whether it's worth it to associate themselves with someone who has posted antisemitic rhetoric and may alienate a portion of their customers and create a backlash against the brand.

The bottom line: Musk "doesn't share our values," Paskalis said. "He has proven to the advertising community that he is not someone you can do business with."

Go deeper: What makes the X advertiser revolt different from other boycotts

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