Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang publicly pines for another bid from Microsoft. On stage at the Web 2.0 Summit conference yesterday, he said, again, that he was open to talks. Microsoft has taken pains to say it's not interested. But really, besides corporate raider Carl Icahn, who cares? A new leadership team, all with lengthy Microsoft resumes, has taken over key parts of Yahoo.Joanne Bradford, a longtime sales chief at MSN who later headed up Microsoft's content operations, now runs U.S. sales. Jeff Dossett, after a protracted job dance with both Microsoft and Yahoo, just took over Yahoo's "audience" group, which oversees its media websites. And Eric Hadley, another longtime Microsoftie, has just gotten a job running marketing. The three all know each other well from MSN and form a tight-knit cabal. And one thing drove them from Microsoft to Yahoo: Microsoft's senseless obsession with Google. MSN has always been an oddball operation at Microsoft. Is it not, at its heart, a media company. That Google figured out a way to turn attracting an online audience and selling advertising into an algorithm infuriated Microsoft's leadership — but the thought that the Web might be a software business after all held a deep attraction to them. Google's strength is in search advertising. And search advertising is bought, while display advertising is sold. Keyword ads practically sell themselves, while banner ads require the careful cultivation of human links between Web publishers and advertisers. In their display-ads sales, Microsoft and Yahoo both took their eye off the ball, distracted by Google. Microsoft will remain distracted, possibly for all time. But Yahoo is beginning to rebuild an ad-sales operation badly wounded by Yahoo president Sue Decker's mishandling of sales chief Wenda Harris Millard. That's what Bradford, Dossett, and Hadley have figured out. If there's still a role for humans in the packaging of audiences for advertisers, it's going to be filled at Yahoo, not Microsoft. It is a chancy, contrarian bet; running up against both Google and Microsoft takes guts. But it's no coincidence that so many Microsoft executives are now at Yahoo.
Heavy.com continues to get lighter; Eric Hadley, who only joined the funny-videos-for-guys startup a year ago as chief marketing officer, has joined Yahoo as its VP of advertiser and partner marketing. He'd previously worked for a decade at Microsoft. We see the hand of Joanne Bradford in this; she's the former MSN chief who now runs ad sales at Yahoo. The pattern here?Yahoo has lacked a strong sales leader since the departure of Wenda Harris Millard, whom President Sue Decker disgracefully drove out of the company. With the hiring of Hadley to run marketing and Jeff Dossett to run media, Bradford is assembling her own team of loyalists, from Microsoft and elsewhere. In sales, personality rules. And every cult needs its leader. (Photo by Andy Plesser)
You know when a layoff's really bad? When the CEO calls Valleywag to spin it. Spot Runner's Nick Grouf rang us up to let us know he was laying off 115 of the 385 or so employees at his online-advertising concern, which helps small businesses manage the complicated process of buying TV ads. The cuts follow a round of 50 layoffs in August. Grouf is also moving some key employees from an office in Fremont, Calif., which Spot Runner picked up when it acquired local-search startup Weblistic, to L.A. Grouf says Spot Runner is getting out of the search-ads market and "exploring strategic alternatives" for Weblistic, which is corporatespeak for trying to find a buyer. When he wasn't sounding like a get-out-the-vote robocall, Grouf did a decent job of feigning optimism."I feel really bullish about the business," Grouf tells us. But he was not bullish enough to reveal any numbers — like how much of the $51 million in venture capital Spot Runner raised earlier this year still remains in its bank account, and to what extent he reduced the company's monthly cash burn through these layoffs. He was more forthcoming about Joanne Bradford, the Microsoft executive he hired, briefly, as an executive vice president. She left Spot Runner after less than six months to join Yahoo, which had long been courting her. "Tell me about it," Grouf groused when we brought up Bradford's rapid departure. "After the Yahoo-Microsoft dance was over, they needed to move quickly on their ad sales group, and they made her an offer she couldn't refuse. The shame is we reorganized the business the way she wanted it to run, and she left midstream."
After just over a year on the job, deeply unqualified top Yahoo ad-sales executive Dave Karnstedt is leaving the company — to "pursue other opportunities," specifically as an yes-man executive-in-waiting at Redpoint Ventures. Replacing him at Yahoo will be Joanne Bradford, who only quit her ad sales post at Microsoft to become an EVP at at Los Angeles-based ad network Spot Runner in March. Tellingly, she'd been commuting to the job from the Bay Area, and employees at Spot Runner tell us Bradford didn't spend much time in the office.Bradford will report to Yahoo EVP Hilary Schneider, according to Kara Swisher. During her short tenure at Spot Runner, the company abandoned its original plan to help small businesses buy customized TV ads and laid off 50 in the process. That tumultuous experience should help prepare Bradford for Yahoo, according to a tipster who tells us "most of [Karnstedt's] lieutenants will be leaving with him shortly," and adds: "Taking bets on the next layoff announcement? 4 days before Q3 earnings. Jerry steps down too."
Nick Grouf once told me he started his online-advertising agency, Spot Runner, in Los Angeles, not Silicon Valley, for one reason: The video-production talent he needed to customize television ads en masse was down south. Now, a laid-off employee tells us Spot Runner has axed 100 employees, and is abandoning its original business of helping small businesses buy locally targeted TV ads. (Update: Rosabel Tao, a Spot Runner spokeswoman, says the actual number is 50, about 10 percent of the company's employees.) The startup, which recently made a high-profile hire in Joanne Bradford, a Microsoft media executive, is now focusing on reselling online ads to small businesses, and competing with established agencies to manage TV buys for large brands. Despite the layoffs, the company is hiring — but mostly for search-engine marketing jobs. That leaves Grouf competing in two crowded fields, from the wrong city, with little to distinguish his company. Save, that is, for the inflated expectations of his investors, who have piled $111 million into a vision which has proven wrong. (When asked to explain why he raised $51 million in May, Grouf specifically denied that his company was running short on cash.) Here's the layoff tip:
Microsoft VP Joanne Bradford has left the company and will join Los Angeles-based ad agency Spot Runner. Even with a new title of EVP, it's hardly a leap up the ladder. Our guess on why Bradford bolted? A former executive at Microsoft and Yahoo told us, " I shudder to think about a MSNBC.com and Yahoo News integration." Bradford's departure plans likely came together not long after Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made it clear he favored Yahoo's brands over the MSN portal Bradford ran.