The Curse Heard Round the Globe–Well, Actually, Just the Web, But It's a Start for Yahoo
San Jose Mercury News columnist Chris O’Brien made a lot of humorous hay at the expense of Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz yesterday, in a joke piece called: “Bartz Unveils New &*%! Strategy for Yahoo.”
O’Brien cleverly created a fictional transcript of a Yahoo (YHOO) staff meeting where Bartz–by now, well-known for her salty language–lets loose in an address about just how sick she was of competitors getting all the good press:
“We’re not going to take this (expletive) any more.
Starting today, we fight back. We’re going to announce a major new marketing campaign that won’t let anyone ignore Yahoo any more.
For those of you who don’t have your heads up your (expletive), you may have noticed that I’ve personally been beta testing this thing. First with those analysts, and then with that (expletive) Wall Street Journal reporter Kara Swisher–I dropped the f-bomb.
The results were clear. Those (expletives) in the press won’t write about all the great (expletives) we’re doing at Yahoo, but one foul-mouthed remark from me, and we’re back in the headlines.
So we’re re-branding the company around excessive use of profanity. Our new marketing slogan will be, ‘Yahoo, (expletive) yeah!’”
Well, why not?
During her interview with BoomTown at the seventh D: All Things Digital conference last week (pictured here, giving me a finger-to-eye-pointing lesson, which you can click on to make larger), Bartz did, in fact, curse at me, although she did not toss that off when talking about what was needed for Yahoo to regain momentum.
As she noted after a question I asked about Yahoo’s bruised image:
“The best way to change the perception is to do a good job and then talk about it. For instance, I know everybody out there says Yahoo has lost the youth; only old people use Yahoo. Do you know in the 18 to 24 demographic we have 76 percent reach? Everybody doesn’t just go to Facebook. We just have to get our story out there; we have to continue to appeal to the people that come to us, and frankly, at some point people get sick of having us as the underdog and say, Thank God, Yahoo’s back. And we are back. We’re going to go step by step.
It was a good answer and certainly a lot more forceful defense of the company than former Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang had made the year before at D6–which was essentially Job No. 1 for Bartz to correct at the recent D7 event.
Except that a lot of folks last week–both inside and outside Yahoo and also in the media–later took Bartz to task to me privately and also publicly for just being a big talker.
“If you compare what she said and what Jerry said word for word, it was the same thing,” said one person to me, in what was a common refrain. “It’s just that Carol said it with more oomph.”
Well, yes. Exactly. Which is why I am not sure there’s anything wrong with that.
Of course, it is entirely true that Bartz has a only a limited time to roll out the confident patter and colorful cursing, before it gets old and real results are required. We have all seen ribald CEOS who delight and then disappoint.
The current economic downturn is, of course, giving Bartz a bit of cover. But, as she well knows, when it turns for the better and she is in office for more than three full quarters, people will justifiably have to have their expectations for her performance met.
That could mean striking a deal with Microsoft (MSFT). Or it could mean gaining some search share from Google (GOOG). Or it could mean just cutting enough costs and improving display advertising sales to turn in a great quarter. Or reviving the pace of innovation at the Silicon Valley giant. Or, all of the above.
Until then, even on the receiving end of an f-bomb onstage (which, I can assure you, came as no surprise), it’s probably a very good thing to keep the tough talk going for a while longer.
Because it motivates staff, because it shows that there is some oomph, because it allows people to forget all that has past.
In no way will be no substitute for making significant changes that Yahoo so desperately needs–but, for this window of time, loose lips might even help keep the Yahoo ship from sinking further.
Speaking of lip, here is the clip of Bartz cursing at me, which is at 57 seconds in:
[The T-shirt image is from CafePress.com.]