Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

In “Seismic Shift,” New COO De Castro Planning to Move Yahoo Ad Sales to Category Model (Backed Up by “Marissa Halo”)

In what will be a major shift in how the Silicon Valley Internet giant sells online advertising, Yahoo’s new COO Henrique De Castro has briefed employees on a plan to move its sales organization to a “category” model, according to numerous sources close to the situation.

Simply put, that means its sales reps will sell all of Yahoo’s ad products, as well as its search offerings, in a vertical process organized around advertiser segments, such as automotive, entertainment and packaged goods.

This is how Google, where both De Castro and CEO Marissa Mayer recently worked, conducts its ad sales efforts. (After copying free food and smartphones, staff evaluation efforts and more, What Would Google Do seems to be strategery at Yahoo these days.)

In contrast, Yahoo has long sold its advertising in a regional and tiered organization against premium and performance inventory in display and search.

The move from regional to vertical is a “seismic shift,” said one source quite accurately. That’s because Yahoo’s go-to-market efforts have been designed to avoid vertical conflict and its sales staff have built up advertiser relations across many areas. In a vertical organization, those reps will be forced to give up these long-term relationships with marketers, some of which have been built over years.

There are, of course, many different ways to organize sales — and each has its fans and detractors. But one thing is clear: Making such a major change has potentially large ramifications on Yahoo’s financial performance, at least in the short term, since advertising makes up the bulk of its revenue.

The change might also result in some attrition among the sales staff, said sources, although many at Yahoo are expecting that De Castro will bring in his own execs from outside to help with the transition. (One interesting name I heard floated was former Googler Penry Price, who was close to De Castro when they both worked there. He is currently president of Media6Degrees, an ad targeting start-up.)

De Castro (pictured here) will need all the help he can get as he overhauls Yahoo’s sales efforts. Well-regarded Chief Revenue Officer Michael Barrett left Yahoo in mid-October after De Castro got the COO job.

His departure has left a large gap in sales leadership and in maintaining strong relationships with big advertisers and agencies. De Castro himself is not as well known in the ad marketplace, despite many years at Google in sales (more on that to come).

Currently, the key ad execs at Yahoo under De Castro are Peter Foster, who heads audience advertising, and Mark Ellis, VP of North American sales and global partnerships.

De Castro outlined the new ad org plan to staff immediately after a multi-day offsite with top sales leaders last week, at which Yahoo’s acquisition options in the ad tech market were also discussed.

Sources said De Castro noted that the changes could take place as early as January 1.

De Castro is also planning to have Yahoo’s annual global sales meeting for the end of January in Las Vegas. Last March, the gathering — then set for about 1,300 advertising staffers in Florida — was cancelled due to a restructuring under ousted CEO Scott Thompson.

In addition, sources said, Yahoo is planning on having a much more prominent presence at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show — also taking place in Las Vegas in January — in order to solidify its relationships with advertisers.

Its big weapon at the giant annual confab will apparently be Mayer, who has not yet interfaced significantly with the company’s big ad clients since taking the top job in July. At CES, sources said, Yahoo is hoping the “Marissa Halo” — i.e. excitement around the telegenic exec — will help boost its business.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald