Wenda Harris Millard has been the face of Yahoo to the advertising community for the past six years, and as she departs Yahoo will re-organize, unifying its search and display ad sales teams into one unit.
Ms. Millard has been tapped as president of media at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, where she has served on the board for the past three years. The new role makes her essentially a general manager over all of the company's media products, including the print products, the website, TV and radio.
Sales unified under Karnstedt
The portal has appointed David Karnstedt, currently senior VP of Yahoo's search sales business, to lead the unit as head of North American sales. In addition to search, analytics and several small-business solutions had been under Mr. Karnstedt's oversight. Mr. Karnstedt, who joined Yahoo in 2001 after holding positions at Alta Vista and Lycos, called the new sales approach more "consultative."
This is the latest in an reorganization that began late 2006, which saw Chief Operating Officer Dan Rosensweig leave and advertiser and publisher duties merge under former Chief Financial Officer Sue Decker. Last week, CEO Terry Semel was ousted and Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang was handed those duties, with Ms. Decker assuming the role of president.
Mr. Coleman, Ms. Decker and Mr. Karnstedt addressed the changes in an interview Sunday with Advertising Age, explaining the moves represent a more customer-focused strategy. It will make it easier to buy all parts of Yahoo by providing to marketers customers no matter what Yahoo channel they come through -- search, display, video -- as opposed to trying to sell a particular advertising product.
"We didn't make it easy for [marketers] because we're calling them in a lot of different places," Ms. Decker said. The Yahoo execs cited a ComScore study released late last year that pointed to the increased power of both search and display when used in tandem.
Greater attention to direct response
The changes also reflect a greater concentration in an area in which Yahoo feels there is much to gain: direct response-based internet advertising. "Search was first a direct response vehicle and became a branding vehicle," she said. "We're terrific in brand side but if you look at where we need to go, we need to bolster our abilities off network and in direct response."
Ms. Decker said Yahoo lagged rival Google in search monetization as a result of the platform, not the talent leading search sales. Because Mr. Karnstedt has experience in both off-network advertising and direct response, he is the perfect person for the job.
Previously, search ad sales reported to Mr. Karnstedt and display ad sales reported to Ms. Millard. Yahoo made the decision about a month ago to combine duties under one reporting line. Mr. Karnstedt was tapped for that role three weeks ago, although Ms. Millard's departure was only effective this weekend.
Yahoo clearly wanted to make clear that the move was its choice and a planned maneuver. Greg Coleman, exec VP-global sales, addressed Ms. Millard's departure in a statement issued today: "While Wenda was a big contributor to our success in the past, the industry has shifted and requires a different set of skills to take the business forward. We appreciate her dedication during her years of service and wish her well in the next chapter of her career."
Ms. Millard, meanwhile, joins a fast-growing multimedia operation in the shape of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia -- not Omnicom Media Group, as reported by some media outlets.
One of her goals will be to expand the media products, she said, specifically calling out the opportunities for online extensions from the newly relaunched website and extensions for the Body & Soul brand. "I've always loved brands," she said. "And I've come to appreciate how Martha's consumers have the most passionate connection to Martha's brand -- the entire portfolio, really."
Built top sales force
Ms. Millard had been responsible for North American sales at Yahoo since 2001. She is credited with building what has been considered one of the top online sales forces (and a training ground for heading sales at many other hot online startups) and bringing ideas like the importance of good interactive creative to the forefront. Before coming to Yahoo, Ms. Millard had been with both print media and internet companies, as chief internet officer at Ziff Davis and, before that, an exec VP at DoubleClick.
Whether Ms. Millard would stay with the company or leave following Mr. Semel's departure has been the subject of some speculation, although she was generally considered by marketers to be an asset to the company.
"I've always though that Yahoo's approach to befriending 'old school Madison Avenue' through great relationship folks like Wenda which the 'old guard' relates through has propelled Yahoo's success," said Gaston Legorburu, chief creative officer at Sapient. "It is commonly commented by the advertising community how much easier it is to do business with Yahoo vs. the other portals."
"As an executive within the company, David has not only done a tremendous job under difficult circumstances," said Mr. Coleman. "From the standpoint of truly embracing the strategy, he gets it and is excited about it. ... You pick your leaders based on a lot of thing and to move the ball like we have to move, you need someone [like that]."
Mr. Karnstedt said he would have more announcements over next couple quarters about the specific structure of his team and who would be tapped as its leaders and executives.
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