Confessions of a Former Ambassador


A few days ago I saw a web post from Matt Straz, formerly from MEC and now CEO at Namely, about the long, slow and painful decline of Yahoo’s graphical advertising business under their newly fired CEO. For more than six years, from 2001 through 2007 I ran marketing for Yahoo! Media Sales and it’s amazing leader, Wenda Harris Millard. Matt amazingly recalled a conversation in which he asked me the secret to Yahoo’s (then) meteoric share price increase (which came, btw, because of a similarly meteoric rise in media sales and market share).

Here’s what I said:

“It’s you guys, your agency and the big brands you represent. That’s why Yahoo! is doing well, because you spend with us,” 


I would like to expand on that quote a bit and explain what it really means and why his agency and many, many others chose to spend with us.


There is a painfully simple truth: people buy things from people they know, like and respect. Know, of course, means way more than simply knowing their name. It means knowing what they are capable of doing, their strengths and weaknesses and, in the best of all worlds, how to navigate their company to get what you really need and want. Liking is pretty straightforward. Who, after all, wants to do business with a putz? And respect takes in a whole gamut of things, including a level of certainty that they will actually deliver against (or beyond) expectations.


For us marketing was not a monologue. We created opportunities for an incredible number of decision makers, at all levels, to get to know us, to like us and to learn to respect us. We did conferences, co-sponsored (with agencies) original and important research, and, yes, we did dinners and great parties (and a whole lot more besides). We remained open to meeting with anyone who wanted to meet with us, we tried to provide solutions to problems in a very timely manner and we even learned to apologize when we screwed up.


I was incredibly lucky because Wenda, and her other top managers, drank the Kool-aid. They made themselves incredibly available, they shook the pom-poms and made sure that their troops bought into the entire strategy and each and every execution (because, yes, there absolutely was a strategy…not simply a random spraying of money). And that made me look damn good. If you want more proof about the value and efficacy of this strategy simply take note of the current positions of many of “Wenda’s kids”; running major operations all over the Internet and beyond. And, frankly, you can look at the growing list of clients at my new consultancy (GrownUpMarketing), many of whom are members of the Yahoo Diaspora with strong memories of the clarity of our story and the effectiveness of our marketing program.


Thanks Matt for reminding us that business, at the end of the day, is relationship-driven and that relationships come from having a large group of prospects who know, like and respect you.