Yahoo CEO faces race against time to revive brand

In her plans to turn around Yahoo, CEO Marissa Mayer clearly wants to foster a new corporate culture.

In her plans to turn around Yahoo, CEO Marissa Mayer clearly wants to foster a new corporate culture.

That was made apparent in email memos leaked to the press, in which she wrote that she is giving employees free food and is looking for suggestions to boost employee productivity.

By addressing poor employee morale - the result of massive layoffs and numerous leadership changes - analysts and corporate PR pros in the tech sector tell PRWeek that Mayer is laying the groundwork for organizational change.

"The employee roster is the biggest battlefield in Silicon Valley right now and it starts with talent - retaining the good ones you have, finding new ones, and cultivating them," says Ben Billingsley, partner at Horn. "In building a strong leadership team, Yahoo crossed the first hurdle, reigniting confidence from their own employees."

But PR pros and financial analysts say until Yahoo communicates its place in a competitive marketplace that has seen the company lose relevance, it will have a difficult time rebuilding its image with investors and its advertiser-customer base.

People power

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer called for employees to share ideas on what would make their jobs easier and more productive, according to an email memo that was later leaked to the press.

Amy Messenger, managing director and US technology practice head at Ogilvy PR, says it was smart employee communications. For starters, it focused on collaboration, rather than a top-down approach. And secondly, Mayer sent the email at 12:45am on a Saturday morning.

“The timing signalled she is all-in on this challenge – and she wants people on the Yahoo ship to be all-in as well,” says Messenger.

Future plans
Aaron Heinrich, managing director for the San Francisco office of Shift Communications, says, "while the company has communicated change, it's still not clear what its vision is.

"If you look at the growth of mobile, digital content, and social media, there is no clear indication of how all that stuff plays together for Yahoo to make it a viable and relevant company. "Yahoo needs to frame its story, not on the past, but in terms of what the future will hold."

Heinrich advises it looks about three years out, much in the same way Google did in anticipating the growth of smartphones with its Android operating platform, which today gives the search engine a leadership position in the burgeoning mobile search market.

"Yahoo has to do the same thing - planning ahead for what possibly could be," he says.

Sameet Sinha, an analyst at B. Riley & Co., says Yahoo will need to dump some of its assets while putting renewed focus on areas where it sees growth or an opportunity to be a market leader.

"Mayer has always been a product person and very data oriented. I'm sure she is figuring out what makes sense for the company and what doesn't, and will tie what remains into a cohesive platform," Sinha adds.

"That is one of the reasons why she is going to hand out iPhones to all of the employees - so they can look at Apple's product and how it has brought everything together, between voice, platform, content, and apps.

"Her message is, 'this is the kind of seamless integration we need and should strive for,'" says Sinha.

Amy Messenger, managing director, US technology practice head at Ogilvy PR, says Yahoo also needs to simultaneously develop a communications plan that re-engages advertisers with the brand.

"Yahoo needs to restate what it is and what it wants to be to credibly stay in the business of brands," says Messenger. "Their primary business is helping advertisers reach the consumers with brand interactions, so they have to show they too believe in that brand view."

Yahoo declined to be interviewed for this article.

However, the company recently announced it hired a new CMO, Kathy Savitt, founder and former CEO of Lockerz, a social commerce company with more than 45 million unique users. Previously, she was EVP and CMO of American Eagle Outfitters. She started on September 14.

Yahoo is now playing against the clock to placate investors and show how the company plans to boost financials.

"The fourth quarter is going to be critical," adds Billingsley.

"Investors will want to see how commitment to products is translating into innovation and how the company capitalizes on the holiday marketing season."

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