Yahoo Hires Former JCPenney CMO Debra Berman as Top Consumer Marketer

Ms. Berman Will Report to Yahoo's CMO Kathy Savitt

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Debra Berman
Debra Berman
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Yahoo needs an image overhaul and has found an exec to oversee that work.

Yahoo has hired former JCPenney CMO Debra Berman as the portal's first-ever senior VP of consumer marketing, the company announced on Friday. Ms. Berman will start at Yahoo on July 6 and report directly to the company's CMO Kathy Savitt who also oversees the company's media business.

"In this newly created role Debra will oversee product marketing, help drive audience engagement and lead consumer brand strategy," Ms. Savitt wrote in a company blog post announcing Ms. Berman's hire.

While Yahoo already has a CMO, Ms. Berman's focus on consumer marketing may suggest plans for Yahoo to become more active in making normal people aware of what the company has been up to over the past few years. Since former Google exec Marissa Mayer became Yahoo's CEO in July 2012, the company has overhauled many of its main products -- including the Yahoo home page, mail and Flickr -- to focus on their mobile versions, acquired Tumblr and premiered its first long-form original video series.

People seem to be aware of the changes, as Yahoo claims more than 1 billion people visit its properties each month. But given Yahoo's reputation as an aging portal that lacks the luster of a Facebook, Snapchat or Google, the company likely wants to improve its image. And the company has reasons to do so sooner than later.

For starters, Yahoo is getting ready to spin off its stake in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. The stake has provided the company some cover from scrutiny of its declining advertising business; a big consumer-facing ad campaign could show investors that Yahoo is serious about its turnaround, as well as crystallize what exactly Yahoo will be post-turnaround. Yahoo is also re-entering the search game after some tweaks to its search alliance with Microsoft, and this fall the company will be the first digital media service to stream an NFL game for free worldwide.

Ms. Berman appears to be the person for the job. Before stepping down in March, she served as JCPenney's CMO for a year. She joined the company as senior VP-marketing in August 2013. Prior to that position, she had worked for Kraft Foods Group as VP-marketing strategy and engagement.

Yahoo's plans to hire creative and media agencies are unclear, though Ms. Berman did overhaul JCPenney's agency roster within three months of taking over the retailer's marketing organization. Yahoo poked around with a few agencies last year to create a consumer ad campaign. It's unclear what came of that, though Yahoo has been running spots in movie theaters to promote its Yahoo-branded mobile apps.

In the first quarter of 2015, Yahoo spent $285.3 million on sales and marketing, 3% less than what was spent on sales and marketing a year ago.