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Advertisers weigh in on new Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz

January 13, 2009 |  6:19 pm

Carol_bartz In case you haven't heard, Carol Bartz has been named Yahoo's new chief executive. We asked some advertisers to weigh in on whether the selection was a good thing, a bad thing or a "meh" thing. Most were cautiously optimistic, but that may just be because they wanted Yahoo to name someone (anyone!) and get its act together.

On the top of advertisers' wish lists for any new CEO: someone who can decide where Yahoo wants to focus, make it easier for advertisers to work with the Sunnyvale, Calif., company's many business units and somehow make the Web search marketplace more competitive.

Focus

"The industry is looking forward to Yahoo deciding what kind of company it wants to be and in which businesses it can compete," said Jeff Lanctot, chief strategy officer for Razorfish, a digital marketing firm that is an independent operating unit of Microsoft (yes, that Microsoft, the one that tried to acquire Yahoo and still says their search businesses would be a nice fit together).

Bartz will be able to help Yahoo decide: After all, she was able to steer Autodesk and help build it into the biggest maker of computer-aided-design software around, said Randi Barshack, vice president of marketing at Organic, a San Francisco digital agency. Barshack founded a company with some former colleagues of Bartz's from Autodesk, and she said the leader was respected for maintaining a spirit of entrepreneurship even as she built Autodesk into a large and well-respected company. Maintaining that sense of entrepreneurship with monetizing the business is a challenge that Yahoo faces as well, Barshack said.

"She has the reputation of a cowboy wrangler," Barshack said. "Yahoo's road ...

... isn't glaringly obvious –- you've got to take some risks and have some innovation."

Ease of use

Advertisers also hope Bartz will make Yahoo easier to work with. As the company expanded and made more acquisitions, "it lost some of its punch," said Ken Martin, chief creative officer of Blitz, an interactive marketing agency in Los Angeles. In 1998, Blitz had a personal representative from Yahoo who was in touch every week to handle advertising issues, Martin said. Now, the corporate structure of a large company has taken over and made things less personal, he said.

Bartz95Advertisers now have to deal with different representatives for each of Yahoo's products, which is inefficient, said Jose Villa, president of Los Angeles interactive agency Sensis. Sensis works with Yahoo on mobile and display ads and is exploring more areas, which means talking to lots of different representatives within the same company. He isn't sure that Bartz will be able to change that, though. "She doesn't have any Internet or media experience," he said, "which is a bit concerning."

Search

In the last two years, Yahoo invested heavily in search, even though Google was the clear leader in that area and even strengthened its position during that time, said Lanctot of Razorfish. Yahoo lost some ground in display because it didn't have enough resources there, he said.

Though Razorfish and other digital agencies want to see more players in search, Lanctot said, that didn't mean Yahoo had to stand alone and compete with Google.

"Our main concern is seeing a search marketplace that's competitive," he said. "We're less concerned about which companies are competing."

Finding a road for Yahoo might mean partnering with other companies or divesting parts of Yahoo to other companies, said Andreas Roell, chief executive of Geary Interactive, a marketing agency in San Diego.

It also means knowing where Yahoo is strong and stepping back in areas where it isn't, rather than trying to grow in a thousands different arenas as once. Although advertisers are looking for a competitor to Google to even out the search landscape, that competitor doesn't have to be Yahoo. It could be a partnership of Yahoo and someone else who is focused on search, Roell said.

Some advertisers wonder whether Bartz will be able to succeed in any of these things in a down economy and at a company that needs to be jolted back to life more than an old man going into cardiac arrest. If she doesn't, neither advertisers nor Yahoo shareholders will stick around for long.

"I see her appointment as a short-term fix and that she could be replaced if the business doesn't sell within the next 24 months," said Oliver Bishop, CEO of Steak Media.

-- Alana Semuels

Photo (top): Carol Bartz was named CEO of Yahoo today. Credit: Yahoo

Photo (bottom): Bartz at Autodesk in 1995. Credit: Steven Lewis / Associated Press

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