Whether you are a Marissa Mayer fan or not, it is undeniable
that her presence at the helm of Yahoo has whipped up some long-lost excitement
for a company that has been stuck in the doldrums for many years.
This was certainly the case yesterday, judging by the size
of the audience that turned up for her appearance at IAB’s Mixx conference, as
part of Advertising Week in New York.
Not even the purple and white jellybeans Yahoo was handing
out earlier in the week (about which one attendee complained to me are “so
2000” when Yahoo should be serving something more modern like bacon ice-cream)
put ad folk off cramming into a packed-out room in the Crowne Plaza
Seasoned interviewer Charlie Rose quizzed a husky-voiced Mayer
on a range of subjects, including why she joined Yahoo, the challenges it faces
and its future. While Mayer has been credited with rejuvenating the Yahoo
brand, making a number of smart (others less so) acquisitions, and reversing
traffic decline, does she want Yahoo to reclaim its former seat among the
“Not really” she said. “I think in the same way the four
players [Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple] have a hard time partnering with
each other, Yahoo is a really strong partner to all of them.”
She said the she sees the future direction of the business in
mobile, as anyone with an eye on the companies she’s bought during her tenure
would’ve known already. “Mobile
is key – we need to be good at apps and the mobile web,” she said.
Like in the early days of search (her ‘first-love’), Mayer
said the industry’s focus in mobile should be on creating the right formats,
buying model, targeting and quality controls to enhance user experience. “Everyone
is trying to crack that,” she said.
“Mobile is great and it is where all users are going, but
will there ever be real revenue? My answer is yes,” she bullishly said.
When Mayer took over at Yahoo, many pundits suggested that
to reverse the business’s downward fortunes would be like attempting turning a
cruiseliner. Mayer said Yahoo had just suffered a ‘string of bad luck’ and her
strategy to stymie this is to win the talent wars.
“I think that one thing media and technology companies live
and die by are the people,” said Mayer. “When you have great people you can
build good things, and that turns into traffic and that turns to revenue.”
While Mayer was being interviewed, just a few blocks away in
the New York Times building, her friend Sheryl Sandberg and a panel discussed
their experiences of being women in the C-suite and balancing family life.
But it was a subject matter that Mayer, who famously
returned to work after two weeks of maternity leave, side-stepped on this
occasion. When asked about what it means to be a woman CEO in a male-dominated
industry, she said “I really don’t feel it”, adding that she only occasionally
thinks about her gender when she is working with teams comprised entirely of
But Rose continued with this line of inquiry, deftly
quizzing Mayer on the recent profile of her in Vogue. He whipped out the controversial
accompanying image, which shows Mayer draped upside-down on a sun-lounger in a
fitted designer dress holding an iPad with an image of her face, to show the audience.
The image, which caused a stir about the representation of
women in business, was the result of Mayer appeasing the photographer who
didn’t want “First Lady” style shots. She said she liked it.
On this subject, Rose asked whether it is the effect of
Mayer’s personal brand, which has been the real booster behind Yahoo’s brand
rejuvenation. This salient point was made earlier in the week by Valleywag’s Sam
Biddle who attempted to pour cold water on the “lavish” press bestowed on her
by questioning what Mayer has actually done of substance at Yahoo.
Mayer said her personal brand was nothing to do with it. And
anyhow, it turns out none of this matters that much to her anyway, since she
says she never reads any press written about her, good or bad. She cited a Margaret
Thatcher quote that said she avoided talking about herself because she believed
it would influence or change her. “It’s true. It pulls you off your centre.”
I doubt such statements will prompt journalists and writers
to take great poetic license in their representations of her – as we all know, even
if she apparently doesn’t give a stuff about how she is portrayed in the media
her PR team sure will.