Yahoo’s Mayer Says Lateness Wasn’t Slight to Partners: Interview

Yahoo! Inc. Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer, facing criticism for arriving late to a dinner last week with advertisers and partners including Interpublic Group at the Cannes Lions festival, said in an interview by phone yesterday that she apologized for the incident. She also discussed the Web portal’s relationships with advertisers and the company’s turnaround.

An edited transcript follows:

Question: How do you think things went at Cannes and what happened at the dinner?

Marissa Mayer: I’m really excited to talk about what happened at Cannes because I actually think we had over 200 meetings. I myself did more than 20 meetings with different agencies, partners and brands. We had a whole set of exciting launches including content marketing, which is basically sponsored posts on Tumblr, as well as the Yahoo Ad Manager and Yahoo Ad Manager Plus, which we announced at CES but are now live and in beta with some of our most trusted and valued partners.

Across the board I was really happy to see how far our team had come in terms of the types of opportunities we’re able to offer, in terms of the relationships. I feel like our ad story is really resonating and I’m really quite happy with it.

I think the dinner is unfortunate how much attention it’s gotten. I was late. I apologized to IPG at the time and in no way meant for it to be a slight to them. IPG is an incredibly valued partner and we’ve done tremendous work with IPG and their clients, and we’re excited to build on that strong foundation.

Question: What do you think of the reaction to the dinner and oversleeping?

Mayer: I tend to try and isolate myself from some of these things so I haven’t seen a lot of it. I’ve got a good friend, Aaron Levie, who is CEO of Box, and I did see his tweets, and he said the only actual news in this story is that Marissa does sleep. Which I actually thought was a nice compliment. And while I do feel really badly about the situation, I did always appreciate that Aaron can see the humor in things.

Question: Can you walk us through how the incident at Cannes happened?

Mayer: I’m late. I apologized, I didn’t mean it as a slight. What I really want to spend my time and energy on is the broader picture that emerged around Yahoo at Cannes. We had an incredible set of productive days.

We’re very focused on growth at Yahoo, on rebuilding the business and on creating tremendous content, both sponsored and organic and editorial, and I felt like we made a lot of progress on the product front over the past few months. And the team did a great job communicating our story.

Question: Some people would say, “Marissa is still having trouble connecting with the advertising community.” What would you say to that?

Mayer: I did many meetings with advertisers last week and have done meetings with advertisers throughout my time here at Yahoo. A lot of the products we’ve developed have been around feedback we’ve gotten from advertisers in terms of bringing them great sponsorship opportunities. We’ve put together some really nice sponsorship packages around exclusive content -- for example, our Live Nation deal. We’ve also responded to the overall native trend by developing stream ads. A lot of these ideas have really been forged in partnership with our advertisers and their agencies, in an attempt to be as responsive as possible.

Question: How do you assess how things have gone over the past two years?

Mayer: I couldn’t be more proud of the team, the way that we changed the company and the trajectory, the fact that we’ve gotten traffic and page views and users to return to growth, our efforts in mobile. Overall I’m just incredibly proud of where we are. We always said it would take multiple years to be growing the way that we want to grow. That said, we also know that in the chain reaction that leads to growth -- of people then products then traffic then revenue -- revenue does come last and we need to get the other precursors in place, and I’m happy with the efforts we’ve made with the other three to date.

Question: Do you expect to go to Cannes next year?

Mayer: I think we’ll take it as it comes. I think overall it was a great event, clearly a good place to reach advertisers. But I really do try and be internally focused and I also want to make sure that our team has a great opportunity and platform to interact with all their clients. We’ll make sure that Yahoo is well represented in Cannes next year.

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