UPDATE: NBCUniversal confirmed that sales chief Linda Yaccarino is leaving the company, amid reports that she will become Twitter’s new CEO.
Mark Marshall, who is currently president of advertising sales and client partnerships, will become interim chairman of NBCU’s advertising and partnerships group. He’ll report to Mark Lazarus, the chairman of NBCUniversal Television and Streaming.
Comcast President Mike Cavanaugh said, “We are grateful for Linda Yaccarino’s leadership of NBCUniversal’s advertising sales business, and for the innovative team and platform she has built.”
Yaccarino has been with the company for 12 years.
Elon Musk announced on Thursday that he was handing over the reins as CEO to an unnamed figure. That immediately ignited speculation as to his successor, and hours later The Wall Street Journal reported that Yaccarino had been tapped for the job.
PREVIOUSLY, May 11: In a potentially seismic change on the eve of the broadcast upfronts, word emerged Thursday evening that NBCUniversal sales chief Linda Yaccarino is reportedly in discussions to become Twitter’s new CEO.
The Wall Street Journal‘s report on the hiring Thursday evening raised eyebrows and hackles over its timing. On Monday morning, Yaccarino is slated to prowl the stage of Radio City Music Hall, making her pitch to 4,000-plus ad buyers. Instead, one of the biggest media companies is left to grapple with its third major crisis of the past two weeks, following the abrupt exit of CEO Jeff Shell and the onset of the writers strike.
Sources initially reached by Deadline were generally flummoxed, to say the least, though a significant sign may have come last month when Yaccarino and Musk appeared together in a keynote conversation at a conference in Miami. NBCU and Twitter soon thereafter revelaed a major renewal of their ad partnership surrounding the Olympics. That announcement was accompanied by bouquet-tossing by NBCU, a contrast with the sentiments in recent months from many advertisers and media agency execs who were skeptical about Twitter’s legitimacy under Musk.
When contacted by Deadline about the potential news Thursday evening, Yaccarino’s top NBCU communications deputy responded only that “Linda is in back to back rehearsals for the Upfront.” Twitter’s communications apparatus has been dismantled since Musk’s $44 billion takeover. The official press email address for general inquiries has recently been set to automatically reply with a poop emoji.
Musk is also CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, and took on the title at Twitter, though he glossed himself as Chief Twit. He also polled his 139 million followers on the question of whether he should quit as CEO of the social media company (the verdict: yes).
As a new entity has emerged from a tumultuous beginning to its new ownership era, advertising quickly became as one of the company’s chief vulnerabilities. Musk has fired most of the company’s workers and opened the throttle on content many brands find objectionable. While Musk has launched an effort to bring in revenue via subscriptions such as Twitter Blue and its infamous blue check mark, it did not gain much initial traction. The handling of the verification plan (previously, Twitter determined through internal means which users were legitimate) was botched so thoroughly that imposters were able to impersonate major corporations. Drug maker Eli Lilly’s stock took a hit after a tweet from a handle bearing a phony blue check and a company logo spread the prank claim that insulin drugs would be provided for free.
While Musk maintained that paid subscriptions would help provide users with a less cluttered experience and eliminate bots, advertising remains at the core of the business. At the time of the takeover, Twitter was making more than 90% of its money from ads.
Yaccarino, a 12-year veteran of NBCU and before that the networks formerly under the Turner banner, has won credibility in industry circles for her assertiveness and, when the situation warrants, pugnaciousness. She was an early and vocal critic of Nielsen, now a common stance, but was also willing to publicly question the viability of YouTube, Google and Facebook for blue-chip advertisers during a time when they were vacuuming up 80 cents of every ad dollar but also spooking advertisers by placing their messages alongside inappropriate videos circulating freely on the platform.
The Yaccarino report comes after Musk tweeted earlier Thursday that he was “excited to announce that I’ve hired a new CEO for X/Twitter,” saying it would be a woman but not naming her.
“She will be starting in ~6 weeks!” Musk wrote, adding, “My role will transition to being exec chair & CTO, overseeing product, software & sysops.” (The 6-week timeframe would enable Yaccarino to depart after the springtime crescendo of the media ad sales calendar, when the TV season ends, upfronts herald the next season, and an increasing number of execs then head to Cannes Lions in June.)
Musk said in December that he would step down as CEO as soon as he found someone “foolish enough to take the job.” That came after Musk, who acquired the social media giant for $44 billion, promised to abide by the result of a Twitter poll in which he asked users if he should step down. More than 57% voted “yes.”
Yaccarino, who has been at NBCU since 2011, currently holds the title of Chairman of Global Advertising and Partnerships at the Comcast division. She oversees all global, national and local ad sales, partnerships, marketing, ad tech, data, measurement and strategic initiatives, according to her bio, which says she and her team have generated more than $100 billion in ad sales.
— Ted Johnson contributed to this report.