Letter #81: Linda Yaccarino (2021)
CEO of Twitter and Chairman of Global Advertising & Partnerships at NBCUniversal | Driving Transformation
Today’s letter is the transcript of an interview with Linda Yaccarino. She discusses her background, transforming a media company and the importance of culture, advice to future marketers, one of the most innovative things things she’s most proud of, NBCUniversal’s main focus, women in the workplace, and embracing your differences.
Linda Yaccarino is the CEO of Twitter. Most recently, she was at NBCUniversal, where she served as Chairman of Global Advertising & Partnerships at NBCUniversal, Chairman of Advertising & Client Partnerships, and President of Cable Entertainment & Digital Advertising Sales. Prior to joining NBCUniversal, she was at Turner (fka Turner Broadcasting System, or TBS), where was was the EVP/COO of Advertising Sales, Marketing, and Acquisitions.
At NBCUniversal, Linda was known for putting the “P” in the company’s P&L. After joining, she set about reconstructing NBCU’s advertising unit by creating a united monetization strategy, effectively becoming the strategic and operational bridge across all of NBCUniversal’s global networks, properties and business units. She also helped them navigate the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. By the time she left, she oversaw 2,000 employees (more than Twitter’s current 1,500) and $13bn in advertising revenue.
I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did!
(Transcript and any errors are mine.)
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Linda Yaccarino’s Background
Host: Let's start with where it all began, with your mom. You say that she was an incredible inspiration to you.
Linda Yaccarino: She's a first generation Italian-American immigrant. She didn't have the good fortune to go to college. She raised three daughters and made sure that each of her daughters focused on an education, so we could each be financially independent. I continue to think that I owe her, and it helps push me and drive me.
Host: Three daughters, three things. You chose media. What drove you to media?
Linda Yaccarino: I know. It sounds crazy. In college, I gravitated towards communications. I was very interested in content and content's influence on culture. And that's kind of what landed me in the business of content, which has become media and advertising.
Host: And you started as an intern?
Linda Yaccarino: So I started as an intern, which is totally coincidental, but at NBCUniversal. So I show up for my first day as the bright new cheery intern, and I said, "Hi, I'm Linda Yaccarino. I'm the new intern." And they were like, "Linda who? From where?" No record of Linda.
Linda Yaccarino: So I went home so like downtrodden and upset. And they're like, "Don't worry, we'll call you in a couple of days. We're going to figure this out." And I ended up in the media planning department, and that's where the love affair was born.
Transforming a media company
Host: Your fourth time then at NBCUniversal, your job was to, no small thing, but just transform the entire company.
Linda Yaccarino: I'm not exaggerating, 15 different sales teams. But the fascinating thing was all of those sales teams were calling on the same clients. So we were so difficult to do business with. So we aggregated all of our teams for scale and become more like one point of entry and therefore drive bottom-line revenue, which end of this year, end of 21, will be my 10th anniversary at the company.
Linda Yaccarino: So we've been on a really good trajectory.
Host: How did that feel? Were you lonely?
Linda Yaccarino: You learn very quickly that culture is everything and the culture of your team, particularly in the face of change. And it's hard. It was scary for my team. So it was very difficult. You had to make sure that I looked confident to them. Even when inside, I was nervous. I was a little scared. I wanted to be a good leader. I also wanted to perform for my new bosses. So that's where the loneliness came in. Because when I went home from work at night, it was the only time I could let my hair down. And I remember it was the first anniversary of my tenure at NBCUniversal, and I went out to dinner with my husband, and I burst into tears, and he was like, "What's wrong?" I'm like, "This is the loneliest job I've ever had." But it was also kind of provided like a breakthrough because then you started having more good days than bad days. You started seeing progress. You started seeing your team kind of rally alongside of you. You know, little by little, the culture got better. And then, then you feel like I have an army of people that we're all really agreed on our vision, and it feels great. You have to invest in that every single day because the culture is what defines the success of your team.
Advice to future marketers
Host: It's so powerful when leaders share those vulnerable feelings because people get intimidated. What advice do you have to marketers or business leaders looking to have those lessons that you learned?
Linda Yaccarino: It takes a point you get into your career when you feel comfortable enough showing that vulnerability. Many of us grew up in a time, there was this ad campaign that was, I think it was for a deodorant, and said, "Never let them see you sweat."
Host: Yeah, I remember that.
Linda Yaccarino: Right? You remember that. So showing your vulnerability, actually let your teams see that you're human, and it actually invites them to share their advice. But seeing you as human is really important too, because you don't have all the answers. And as a leader, and I talked to my teams about this all the time, you want to invite contribution, and you want to develop your plan together, right? So your whole team can lean in and contribute to the success. Marketers, you know, we don't have all the answers. And I know like NBCUniversal, particularly in the US, is the biggest media company, but we can't give you everything you need. So help me learn what else you need, and that's where partnerships come in. Because we're confident enough in our own business and our partnership together, then we want to introduce you to partners of ours. Because if I bring a partner along with me, it's like introducing you to a good friend, a mutual friend, that you believe in and you trust in. And that takes a little courage too.
The 1 year anniversary of Peacock
Host: What are some of the most innovative things that you're most proud of?
Linda Yaccarino: We're about a week away from the one-year anniversary of Peacock, our new streaming platform. It was probably about nine months in the making, develop the strategic plan, the business case, pitched it to the then CEO, my boss, Steve Burke, it got green lit in the room, and that was a nine-month project of my entire team. And to jump into a pool with Netflix, or with Disney+, or with Hulu, and say, "This is our stake in the ground." I burst. If you couldn't tell, I burst with pride, that I was able to partner with my team and bring that to a successful launch in the marketplace.
NBCUniversal’s main focus
Host: Viewers are everywhere. How is NBCU using technology to help marketers reach their audiences?
Linda Yaccarino: Well, you're certainly right. Viewers are everywhere. And actually content is everywhere. We have the ability to reach consumers. The screen in their hand, the screen, or the tablet, in their lap, or the big giant screen on the wall. But how do we connect all of those screens on their own terms to offer scaled opportunities to you? So how we use technology for that? It's a really good example of the strategic focus of our company. Comcast NBCUniversal is focused on three very simple things: broadband, aggregation, and streaming, so it's a technology-driven content company. We're using our technology partners to improve the viewing experience. So when you're looking at the screen on your hand, you're getting the ads that you want when you're in that type of environment. And we wouldn't be able to do it if we weren't investing in the technology infrastructure to improve the viewing experience for viewers that have unlimited choice, feeding them the advertising and the content that they want.
Host: You said that we're all living at that intersection of media and technology, what do you mean by that?
Linda Yaccarino: People say, "oh, that's a, there's a bunch of tech companies over there, or that's a media or content company over there." Consumers don't think that. It's the consumer first. And if we're serving that experience right, and if the products we bring to them are influenced by that intersection, then we'll be best in class because the consumers are very vocal. They'll tell you where they're going. They'll tell you what they want.
Host: You've also said that consumers are just demanding innovation. How can marketers be innovating for the future?
Linda Yaccarino: Let's think about the change in consumption in just the last 15 months. There's been such an acceleration of the viewing behaviors of consumers moving to streaming. So what I always talk to marketers about is how can we string all those things together? So in the past, we would have had a conversation just about your interest sports, or how you want to interact with broadcast television or cable television. We can't do that anymore. We have to stitch them all together to give you the scale that you need. And that requires technology. It requires data sophistication. So what I tell marketers to think about is let's learn from what we were doing in the past, but not let that legacy process and behavior hold us back from thinking about what's new.
Women in the workplace
Host: You drive big transformations, but you're also have been one of the only women in the room. How hard is that?
Linda Yaccarino: Particularly earlier in my career, when I first started noticing, sitting around the table, and I was the only woman, I took it as a very unique opportunity to be able to stand out, because I thought that the chances were greater, that someone would remember the studied, prepared, ready-to-go woman in the room as compared to the 10 or 15 men that were in the room. So it probably created, typical of women, that we prepare more, that we are more focused and specific on what we want to accomplish, but it also gave me courage to embrace my differences.
Embracing your differences
Host: What advice do you have for people who find themselves as the onlys in the room.
Linda Yaccarino: Be confident to be independent and speak your mind. Who really wants to be like everybody else?
Host: Nobody does.
Linda Yaccarino: So, exactly! And conforming is boring, right? So embrace your differences. But what I also talked to them a lot about today, is make sure you bring somebody along with you because it's lonely being the only woman at the table or the only person of your background at that table. Bring somebody else with you and change it.
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