The Marissa Mayer Show Needs a Rewrite

Yahoo Marissa Meyer New Image
Paul Morigi/Getty Images

'Hunger Games' interview, Vogue shoot isn't what the Yahoo CEO should be doing

Now that she’s been booked for a keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer should look to it as an opportunity to present a different side to her than what she’s shown the public lately.

Take last week, when “Hunger Games” star Jennifer Lawrence did a whirlwind tour of Silicon Valley to promote the franchise’s latest installment. She made all the requisite stops: Facebook, Google, Twitter and Yahoo. While she reached out to millions of fans in interviews streamed to each brand’s global audience, Lawrence also made time for a special audience of one, chatting privately with Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.

But Mayer managed to one-up Sandberg. When Lawrence and the film’s director, Francis Lawrence, visited the Yahoo campus, it was Mayer herself who conducted a Q&A, in which company employees and the streaming public got to see her relaying questions from the Internet to the actress for 40 minutes on everything from her new hairdo to her teen crush.

Lawrence’s tour crystallized the contrasting styles of Silicon Valley’s reigning queens. Limiting her exposure to just a single photo sitting opposite the star, Sandberg was aiming for tasteful restraint (undercut somewhat by a framed image of the title of Sandberg’s book, “Lean In,”  on the wall behind them).

And then there was Mayer, who seemed to be auditioning to be an “Entertainment Tonight” correspondent.

In and of itself, Mayer’s interview could be dismissed as a forgivable indulgence. But a CEO assigning herself the ridiculous task of fawning over Jennifer Lawrence is the latest indication that Mayer is losing her grasp on the optics of her public persona.

You can’t play the hero if you’re coming across like Nero.

For every coup she scores, like the acquisition of Tumblr, Mayer also has a knack for getting attention that seems more about promoting herself than the company. There was that second-quarter webcast in which she and chief financial officer Ken Goldman announced Yahoo’s earnings in a setting that looked like a local news anchor desk.

And how about that Vogue spread in September in which she posed as if she were modeling for, well, Vogue. Then there are all those headlines about her interests in fashion, parties, real estate.

Sandberg leans in. Mayer preens in.

Whether or not Mayer is consciously cultivating this attention, it seems inarguable that the CEO of a company in turnaround mode should do anything short of everything to keep from being misinterpreted as vain or frivolous. Yahoo’s stock has been on the upswing since she took over last year, but there isn’t an analyst alive who will tell you that the online giant is out of the woods. Now Mayer is practically handling ornery stockholders the ammunition to shoot her down with in the future.

It’s not as if she could be accused of inaction given all that she’s doing on so many different fronts at Yahoo, but the company’s extended song-and-dance regarding its redesigned logo seems to serve as a fitting metaphor for Mayer’s tenure to date: for all the theatrics involved, not much really changed.

It’s not as if Mayer isn’t conscious of maintaining the right image. She publicly expressed her regrets about the Vogue shoot, for instance, but focusing on the photo misses the point. An executive sitting down with Vogue period sends a message: She is preoccupied with her own stature, perhaps at the expense of attention best paid to the company.

Even if an executive believes he or she has a divine right to enjoy the perks of an exalted position, to do so too publicly is to risk giving the impression of misplaced priorities. The reality of what Mayer is really like is irrelevant; it’s the perception of her that’s the issue.

Dismiss this opinion of Mayer as pure sexism if you must. She’s an attractive woman who shouldn’t have to tamp down her femininity to correspond to some conventional presumptions of how an executive should conduct him or herself. But the same could be said about a male executive who posed for GQ and interviewed the cast of “Fast and Furious 14.”

Oddly enough, it was precisely what defined Mayer as a woman at the beginning of her time at Yahoo — her giving birth — that she used so masterfully to mold her public image as a focused CEO. The press was filled with tales of how disciplined she was about maintaining the seemingly impossible balance of embarking on motherhood and a career at Yahoo. Even the subtext of her first controversy at the company, in which she nixed allowing employees to work from home, sent a message to the marketplace that working at Yahoo demanded the utmost professionalism and dedication.

It’s as if Mayer is trying to play two seemingly incompatible roles at once: the visionary turnaround specialist who lets the innovations she implements do the talking, and the rockstar CEO who rationalizes that her company basks in the refracted glow of a halo that gets its shimmer from her swagger.

She’s not the first visionary to miss the blind spot staring at her in the mirror.  Before CES comes along, Mayer has to realize the one thing she’s lost sight of at Yahoo: herself.

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  1. Whos that guy? says:

    This stupid bitch destroyed yahoo chat now the dumb blonde will leave yahoo! bring back yahoo chat rooms then yahoo’s revenue will increase again!

  2. kuldeep says:

    Marissa Mayer is stupid idiot and world worst CEO in the history of yahoo. If u are not able to bring back our messenger public chat room past two year why the hell u shut down that world most popular product u bitch u please left u job and i beg yahoo authority to fired her she is not able to do anything she just put yahoo on big trouble near about 75 % people using yahoo messenger. And not after shutting down messenger chat rooms mostly people left yahoo and left their services too because people come to yahoo for entertainment . and what we do to the messenger without chat rooms u tell we just sing in and look at the messenger software or waiting may be some body online in our friend list but trust me yahoo authority no body online no body online .And where i can find the people for chit chat .and this idiot Marissa think she done great job to shut down messenger chat rooms after joining her as yahoo CEO millions are people visit yahoo every day so i tell u people come to yahoo websites to find out when yahoo public chat room are coming back .we always do in fact i also do this every day.to find news that when yahoo bring back their PC messenger public chat rooms .please yahoo authority i bed i i really bed u that please fired Marissa Mayer and bring back our messenger public chat room as soon as possible .

  3. kuldeep singh says:

    yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer Stupid and Alex stamos stupid they are just giving us excuses that encryption version messenger comming soon i am sick of those lie telling by the marissa and alex what the hell they are doing past two year to bring back our yahoo chat as i told u marissa is a lady thats why she is unable to bring bank our yahoo public chat rooms she is just rolling her tounge past two year and she recently hire two more yahoo pa-pet to intertain her not to work for bring back yahoo chat rooms damn and they think every day 7 millions people visit yahoo u are stupid Marisa we visit because we try to find out may be may be our chat rooms are back and u think you and Aex and two other Security pa-pet hired by u doing really good job we appreciate your work that’s why we visit you yahoo damn we are not ok we really hate u. why don’t u properly shut down PC yahoo messenger services so that we don’t have any hope that our yahoo public chat rooms back some day. kill yahoo messenger too we don’t want it without yahoo public chat rooms k do u here me u stupid Worst Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer .

  4. kuldeep says:

    hmmm hello Guys yesterday is the black Day of yahoo messenger. day when the marrisa mayer kill our messenger public chat room . all credit goes to this bad idiot stupid daffier useless CEO Who did not care Millions of user of use Public chat rooms When she is not in yahoo .she did not have any feeling of yahoo and their user that’s why she don’t care what the yahoo user want she just did what she want. She just gave us Excuses to hire Lots of professional but result is A Big zero Past 3 Year Congrates Marrisa mayer u did wonderfull job to kill yahoo chat room do me a favor please kill yahoo too we don’t need the yahoo messenger without chat rooms . actully marrisa doing job in yahoo but doing work in favor of google after all marrisa mayer is a X employe of google worker.

  5. Francois says:

    I personally will never forgive Marissa Mayer for killing off the Yahoo Chat rooms right before Christmas, (complete with their condescending message in regards to it.) She didn’t listen to those who tried to keep them open, (or more precisely, keep them open, upgrade and fix them) and she won’t listen to those who hate the changes that she did to Yahoo’s email, groups, and homepage. She has always come off to me as a person who was more about glitz and glamour than someone who had a clear direction and vision for the company, and sadly, regardless of whatever happens to Yahoo, Marissa Mayer at the end of the day will still walk away with a boatload of money.

  6. Marina says:

    What are we supposed to take away from this article? Sheryl Sandberg good, Marissa bad? Why would you want to say that?

  7. hbcasurfer says:

    What a joke! What is MM’s purpose other than to glorify herself? I’m laughing at the chairs being a mile apart! So impersonal like I’m way over here, better than you! What a crock!

  8. Londongirl says:

    MM is in the process of destroying Yahoo – I don’t know why, but it’s deliberate sabotage, that’s the only explanation for taking an excellent, well-like product (or collection of products) with solid, loyal users, and stripping them of their functionality, then *completely ignoring* the huge number of users who protest the loss of functionality; then underhandedly marking the customer request to bring back tabs YahooMail (which had over 100,000 votes – an achievement considering Yahoo were already trying to limit votes by dividing votes to bring back tabs into different categories) as ‘completed’ and hence closed to further votes – when in fact it is NOT completed, and tabs are still gone. I can’t see how anyone in the business world can respect anything MM has to say, after she has orchestrated this dismantling of a formerly trusted and well-liked group of products. (After 16 years of using YahooMail, I sadly have to move to a different email system, as the new YahooMail is completely unusable for me, mainly because of the loss of tabs, but there is so much more that is wrong with I can’t list here). RIP Yahoo.

  9. Tamaracboy says:

    I find it incredible that you have written about Miss Mayer without one mention of the autocratic and abysmal changes she has made to many of yahoo’s consumer products. She has micromanaged disastrous “enhancements” to Yahoo Groups, Yahoo Sports, Yahoo Email and Yahoo Finance to the point of destroying them completely. What ever utility these products had that attracted users, and thus traffic, has been “Google-ized” into TOTAL inutility. She steered these changes against the input of her own engineers (MY way or the highway), she short-circuited any beta testing, did not even ask for any user input, then forced it on ALL users without even an Opt-out feature. All this in direct opposition of all industry standards (she obviously knows better). The end results were bug riddled products, that virtually every single power user complained were useless, both in utility AND operation. All are slower, inconsistent, anti-logical, counter-intuitive, and above all, user UN-friendly. Additionally any/all feedback is either ignored outright and/or arrogantly dismissed as “resistant to change”. The slightest look into the biggest debacle in internet history will reveal nothing short of rebellion on the part of users. As just the most minimal insight into the overwhelming incompetence of these changes here are some examples all related to the new mail UI: no “Print” button; “Send” (and all formatting) are at the BOTTOM, and pushed off of, the screen; “Save Draft” is now an “X”, the universal symbol used for “Close”. The few samples are in addition to the outright REMOVAL of Yahoo’s singularly most useable feature “Tabs”.
    For more than a month now Yahoo (read Ms. Mayer) has ignored feedback with over 100,000+ “votes” (subsequently labeled “Completed”. Ms. Mayer has also ignored multiple other feedbacks with the similar theme of “Bring back classic email” totaling many more than these now rejected 100,000+ “votes”. On top of this condescension towards mere “users” !, there has been a petition with more than 30,000 signatures asking for at least an opt out button which has been equally dismissed as “irrelevant”
    No accurate article on Ms. Mayer should omit this fundamental aspect of her tenure at Yahoo: ARROGANCE.

  10. Bern says:

    Mayer will go down in history as being the one who ruined Yahoo. If any reporter wants to know how well Yahoo Groups work now, all they and several other reporters have to do is set up a MODERATED group – one where you have to approve posts and people have to apply in order to join. Then, just try to edit posts to remove long strings of old messages that the writers left attached. See how long it takes you to work in the tiny editing window Yahol now has. Yahoo’s advertisers are shouting to empty rooms. Ancient forums that were abandoned and are now taken over by spammers are being counted by Yahoo when they tell people how many groups they have. The post numbers they talk about include millions of messages from spammers who are posting spam and porn to the abandoned groups.

    Get smart – investigate, don’t just accept any numbers Yahoo hands you.

  11. Marti Lovejoy says:

    Under Mayer, Yahoo has released new versions of Mail, Sports and Groups on unsuspecting and unwilling USERS in an apparent multi-million-participant Beta test. USERS with complaints are dismissed as being “not being willing to accept change.”

    How about “not wanting to accept an interface that no longer does what it needs to do for the USER?” Yahoo is mostly unresponsive to requests to return functions that USERS depend upon for the product to function. For example, Group owners need to be able to let their members know WHY a post is being rejected. This functionality was removed from the Groups interface and despite multiple requests, has not been restored. Many things which once took one click (or two) now take 5-6… like printing an email. You can do it, but try to find it! Time we used to have to look at ads is being spent on trying to find out how to do what was once right in front of our faces.

    With Mayer’s Yahoo, it’s all about shiny – not usability. Perhaps her image could be enhanced by fixing everything she has broken.

  12. MJ says:

    Any Yahoo turnaround and stock price increase has nothing to do with Marissa Mayer and everything to do with Alibaba.
    Marissa is a pretty face who is smart enough to know a good deal when she sees one since her time with Google was drawing to a close.
    It is said that there is no such thing as bad press. Yahoo is a prime example of this. Everywhere you look, you see Marissa:
    Marissa is doing a photo spread in Vogue.
    Marissa bans telecommuting.
    Marissa builds nursery next to office.
    Marissa unveils new Yahoo logo.
    Marissa redesigns Yahoo Mail, infuriates users.
    Yahoo states that they have seen a surge in traffic to its sites. Yep, people are curious, and former users of the now crippled Yahoo Mail, Groups, Sports & Finance need to spend a lot of time on those sites figuring out how best to migrate to other providers.
    When the furor dies down, after people have lost interest and moved on, then we shall see how much of a visionary Marissa Mayer really is. Let’s see how she deals with the inevitable fallout from advertisers when former Yahoo users are spending their dollars elsewhere.

  13. Raffaele Buonfiglio says:

    The arrogance and rudeness shown by MM in forcing without a pre-run the update to the new horrible, crippled and untested mail interface in order to “modernize” it, will alienate millions of loyal Yahoo users who can’t opt out. Just read the thousands of comments being currently published on the net, along with the fast growing petitions to restore the previous version. And consider that the vast majority of them will migrate without bothering posting protests. Yahoo had a unique product and trashed it to make it like all the others, only worse. Unless Marissa sacrifices some pride in favor of a bit of residual common sense, the user base will be greatly reduced over the next few weeks or months. This is a catastrophe not only for Yahoo’s business, but also for Yahoo advertisers. Watch out for falling stars!

  14. mary hodder says:

    Yahoo’s a media company.. nothing wrong with doing what she did and when male ceo’s do same ie Eric Schmidt did this all the time.. no one talks about it. Because there are so many models of male ceo’s doing things like this. We really cap on women so much more, for the parts that don’t matter.

  15. MM Fan says:

    Not only do I never want to work for Marissa Mayer, I hope I never meet her. She’s exactly what being a “horrible leader” means to me. In addition to her misplaced priorities and publicly flaunting her executive perks, her latest HR play of ranking workers on a curve makes my blood boil. Just because she’s a female CEO (a.k.a. one of the few highest-ranking working moms), doesn’t automatically make her a good role model for young women either. She spends so much energy making herself appear “impressive”. Someone please get her an executive coach! Go focus on your teams, Marissa. “You don’t build a business. You build people and then people build the business.”

  16. The wonder boy says:

    This article is ridiculous. The majority of Yahoos value comes from their investment in Alibaba. Mayer’ stop line responsibility is to make yahoo relevant. That means acquire “cool products,” garner lots of press and make it a destination for top talent. She is actually killing it in those departments over the short time she has been there.

  17. Thank you providing important and timely advice. It is easy for CEO’s, women, especially, to fall into this trap. It killed Carly Fiorina at HP. Ms. Mayer should send you stock options.

  18. Please MM, Bring back Yahoo Mails TABS !

  19. F F Mann says:

    Is Mayer really turning around Yahoo or trying to kill it. So far most of the her redesigns are not being received as positive. Sports, email, groups, and now finance are very upset with her handiwork that ruined most of things drew then to Yahoo. Her trying to make Yahoo mail into a pale copy of Google Mail, and removing tabs feature which made people love Yahoo mail. Her NEO format for groups has been so flawed and bug riddled that groups members are leaving in droves, and groups are closing. Many have revived the old Yahoo nick name of Yah*ll and that is one the polite terms being used.

  20. Swift Loris says:

    So far, from the perspective of Yahoo’s users, the “innovations” Mayer has implemented–the redesigns of Yahoo Sports, Yahoo Groups, Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Finance, Flickr–have been travesties and disasters. If she lets those malformed, bug-ridden, grotesquely dysfunctional interface redesigns do the talking, she will be exposed as a visionary with terminal myopia.

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