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Yahoo CEO Says She Apologized for Lateness to Dinner

By Brian Womack
June 25, 2014 2:17 PM EDT 57 Comments
Marissa Mayer, chief executive officer of Yahoo! Inc., looks on at the Cannes Lions International Festival Of Creativity in Cannes, France. The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, formerly the International Advertising Festival, attracts thousands of delegates working in the creative communications, advertising and related fields, and runs from June 15 to June 21..
Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
Marissa Mayer, chief executive officer of Yahoo! Inc., looks on at the Cannes Lions International Festival Of Creativity in Cannes, France. The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, formerly the International Advertising Festival, attracts thousands of delegates working in the creative communications, advertising and related fields, and runs from June 15 to June 21..

Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO) Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer said she apologized and did “feel really badly” for being late to a dinner with advertisers last week in Cannes, France, in her first public comments since facing criticism over the incident.

Mayer said in an interview that she didn’t mean to slight attendees at the dinner hosted by Interpublic Group of Cos. at Cannes Lions, an advertising festival that drew Google (GOOG) Inc., AOL Inc., Microsoft Corp. and others. She said she was pleased with the more than 200 meetings that Yahoo had at Cannes.

“I feel like our ad story is really resonating and I’m really quite happy with it,” Mayer said in the exclusive interview. “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.”

Mayer is responding after critics questioned her commitment to building relationships with advertisers following the Cannes event. The 39-year-old CEO kept guests waiting for about two hours at the dinner that was attended by top ad executives, according to people with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified because the meal was private. Mayer later told guests she had overslept, said one of the people. Michael Roth, CEO of Interpublic Group, left before she arrived, the people said.

Tom Cunningham, a spokesman for Interpublic, didn’t respond to a request for comment on Mayer’s remarks.

Turnaround Pressure

Mayer has been under scrutiny since taking the helm of Yahoo in July 2012. She is facing pressure to turn around the Sunnyvale, California-based Web portal as it grapples with competition from Google and Facebook Inc. (FB) While Yahoo showed signs of progress in the first quarter as revenue expanded for the first time in more than a year, sales growth is estimated by analysts to remain at less than 5 percent for the next three years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The projections signal Mayer still has to make headway with advertisers, who are Yahoo’s key clients. The CEO has made efforts this year to reach out, appearing at a key ad-agency conference in Los Angeles for the first time in March to tout new marketing tools and user engagement.

‘Multiple Years’

Mayer said in the interview that Yahoo has worked hand in glove with advertisers to develop new products and content for brands to market against, including live content and more. She said she is “proud” of the team and how the company’s trajectory is positive, with traffic, page views and users now growing.

“We always said it would take multiple years to be growing the way we want to grow,” she said.

At the company’s annual shareholder meeting today in Santa Clara, California, Mayer also focused on Yahoo’s progress in the past year in developing mobile, social, native advertising and video products. Yahoo in particular will seek to expand advertising using social-media tool Tumblr, purchased last year for $1.1 billion, she said.

“Our investments are all focused in these areas,” Mayer said at the meeting. “We’ve overhauled every product in our product line and introduced many new ones.”

The CEO has stirred controversy before, including in February 2013 when she ordered employees who work from home to begin reporting to offices. While the directive was aimed at fostering collaboration and boosting the speed and quality of task completion, it sparked concern that Yahoo doesn’t place a premium on work-life balance or flexible work arrangements.

New Content

At Cannes last week, Mayer told ad executives about new content on the Web portal, including shows such as a “Other Space,” a 30-minute program produced by Paul Feig, director of the film “Bridesmaids,” a move meant to lure viewers and the advertisers that want to target them. She also discussed Yahoo’s acquisition of Tumblr last year and rolled out new marketing products including sponsored posts on the blogging site.

Mayer said Cannes was a “very productive set of days,” including her participation in 20 meetings with ad agencies, brands and more. The company has made progress on the product front, which was evident at Cannes, she said.

Some advertisers like what they’ve seen under Mayer. Cereal maker Kellogg Co. (K) has increased spending with Yahoo this year compared with 2013 as the company’s media properties performed well, said Jon Suarez-Davis, vice president of global media and digital strategy at Kellogg.

“I think Marissa has done a good job of listening,” said Suarez-Davis, who attended Cannes. “She’s put in a great team. We continue to invest in Yahoo.”

Humorous Comments

Mayer said in the interview that she tends “to try and isolate myself” from some of the public uproar and so she hadn’t seen much of the reaction to the IPG dinner. She said she did see some posts from Box Inc. CEO Aaron Levie, who said the only news in the situation was that “Marissa does sleep.”

“I did always appreciate that Aaron can see the humor in things,” Mayer said.

Levie didn’t respond to an e-mail requesting comment.

When asked if she would return to Cannes next year, Mayer said she would take it as it comes. While calling the event “clearly a good place to reach advertisers,” she said she likes to be internally focused and wants her team to have the opportunity to interact with clients.

“We’ll make sure Yahoo is well represented in Cannes next year,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Womack in San Francisco at bwomack1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Pui-Wing Tam at ptam13@bloomberg.net Jillian Ward, Reed Stevenson

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