Last week’s announcement that one-time Silicon Valley darling, Yahoo!, is no more came as absolutely no surprise to this blogger.
The once mighty, always arrogant, technology company had been in a death spiral for years when they hired us to be their business-to-business PR agency about a decade ago. We were ecstatic at the time because Yahoo! (The exclamation point, along with a truly ugly, deep purple corporate color, were visual reminders of their hubris) was still a big name player.
Anyway, to jump-start our relationship, the in-house Y! PR types invited us to visit their incredible Sunnyvale campus where Stepford-like Yahooligans (yes, they called themselves Yahooligans) were playing beach volleyball and engaging in hotly-contested three-on-three games of pick-up hoops. Other skateboarding nerds were zooming by us on the seemingly endless walking/running paths. The whole experience struck me as Silicon Valley’s answer to The Magic Kingdom.
Ah, but once we went inside Y’s vast facility, the enthusiasm dropped faster than Jeb Bush’s presidential aspirations while the tension skyrocketed like the heat and humidity on an August day in Southern Florida.
Y! had already begun its long, slow slide into oblivion, and hired us to stanch the bleeding with marketers and ad agencies buyers alike. But, they gave us nothing new with which to work. No new news resulted in no new coverage.
Anyway, the in-house team invited us to attend the very first, worldwide address by Carol Bartz, the latest in a long line of CEOs hired to patch-up the countless self-inflicted wounds (including a decision to pass on buying an upstart named Google).
Bartz began her bombastic speech by dropping one F-Bomb after another, and literally screamed at the cowering Yahooligans for their horrific performance. It was a textbook example of how NOT to motivate people and empower them to pull together to right the listing ship of state.
When she finally finished a speech that would make a longshoreman blush, Bartz asked for questions. Nada.
For the duration of our 15-month stint in Ya-Ya Land, we watched the sales team withhold information from marketing, the marketing team mistreat PR and, yes Virginia, the PR team abuse the agencies (#FoodChain). At the same time, Y’s top talent was being poached by competitors.
There was no strategy, no unifying thread and a pervasive air of defeat. It must have been like fighting in the Vietnam War.
When Y! Finally got around to hiring their first CCO, he arranged back-to-back meetings with our team and Golin’s (they’d been handling consumer publicity up until then).
The stylish, sophisticated CCO said we should focus on a single goal that Bartz had demanded become a reality within the next year: Make people think of Yahoo! instead of Google as THE synonym for ‘search.’ I nearly gagged on my bagel.
Fast forward a year. The top dog’s attack dog called me into his office and fired us for not understanding the business of Y!’s business.
That was laughable since Y! had no clue what the business of their business was.
Bartz was booted out shortly after us, replaced by a series of other miserable CEOs until the beleaguered board hired the Valley’s answer to Jackie Kennedy Onassis: Marissa “The rules apply to you, not me” Mayer.
Double M failed miserably as well, and now Y! has a new owner.
I’ll bet their first move will be to bury the company name. The only thing Yahoo! has become synonymous with is horrible management, mean-spirited people and a company that spent billions of dollars marching around in circles trying to find the path back to success.
One caveat: Karma is a bitch. And, many of the PR folks who mistreated us will be in the market looking for jobs. References? To paraphrase Carol Bartz, ask me for one and, “I’ll kick your ass to the f*cking moon!”