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Cannes Lions

Poll Result: Late-for-Dinner Yahoo CEO Is a Non-Story

Some Say a Man Could Be Late for Dinner Without Generating Headlines

Published on . 3

UPDATE: Even as we covered Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's comments on showing up late to an advertiser dinner at the Cannes ad fest last week, we asked readers whether it was really news. Some have argued that a male CEO could have been late without making headlines, while others said it was a valid story, given Yahoo's need to impress the very advertisers at that dinner. After a day of voting and 679 votes cast, the results: Most of you consider it a non-story.

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Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said she apologized and did "feel really badly" for being late to a dinner with advertisers last week in Cannes, France, in her first public comments since facing criticism over the incident.

Ms. Mayer said in an interview that she didn't mean to slight attendees at the dinner hosted by Interpublic Group of Cos. at the Cannes Lions ad festival last week. She said she was pleased overall with the more than 200 meetings that Yahoo had at Cannes.

"I feel like our ad story is really resonating and I'm really quite happy with it," Ms. Mayer said in the interview. "I think the dinner is unfortunate how much attention it's gotten. I was late. I apologized to IPG at the time and in no way meant for it to be a slight to them."

Mayer is responding after critics questioned her commitment to building relationships with advertisers following the Cannes event. The 39-year-old CEO kept guests waiting for about two hours at the dinner that was attended by top ad executives, according to people with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified because the meal was private. Mayer later told guests she had overslept, said one of the people. Michael Roth, CEO of Interpublic Group, left before she arrived, the people said.

Tom Cunningham, a spokesman for Interpublic, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Mayer's remarks.

Some observers have suggested however that Ms. Mayer's lateness wouldn't have been a story in other circumstances -- if she were a man, perhaps, or if she headed a company that wasn't in such need of currying favor among advertisers.

As Alexa Tsotsis wrote on TechCrunch, "Someone was late in France: Ring the alarm."

But Ms. Mayer has been under scrutiny since taking the helm of Yahoo in July 2012. She is facing pressure to turn around the portal as it grapples with competition from Google and Facebook. While Yahoo showed signs of progress in the first quarter as revenue expanded for the first time in more than a year, sales growth is estimated by analysts to remain at less than 5% for the next three years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The projections signal Ms. Mayer still has to make headway with advertisers, who are Yahoo's key clients. The CEO has made efforts this year to reach out, appearing at a key ad-agency conference in Los Angeles for the first time in March to tout new marketing tools and user engagement.

Ms. Mayer has said she sees opportunities in native advertising, which places promotions within content like news stories, rather than placing display ads near the top of the page or alongside the content.

Mayer said in the interview that Yahoo has worked hand in glove with advertisers to develop new products and content for brands to market against, including live content and more. She said she is "proud" of the team and how the company's trajectory is positive, with traffic, page views and users now growing.

"We always said it would take multiple years to be growing the way we want to grow," she said of Yahoo, which will hold its annual shareholder meeting today.

The CEO has stirred controversy before, including in February 2013 when she ordered employees who work from home to begin reporting to offices. While the directive was aimed at fostering collaboration and boosting the speed and quality of task completion, it sparked concern that Yahoo doesn't place a premium on work-life balance or flexible work arrangements.

At Cannes last week, Mayer told ad executives about new content on the Web portal, including shows such as a "Other Space," a 30-minute program produced by Paul Feig, director of the film "Bridesmaids," a move meant to lure viewers and the advertisers that want to target them. She also discussed Yahoo's $1 billion acquisition of Tumblr last year and rolled out new marketing products including sponsored posts on the blogging site.

Mayer said Cannes was a "very productive set of days," including her participation in 20 meetings with ad agencies, brands and more. The company has made progress on the product front, which was evident at Cannes, she said.

Some advertisers like what they've seen under Mayer. Cereal-maker Kellogg has increased spending with Yahoo this year compared to 2013 as the company's media properties performed well, said Jon Suarez-Davis, vice president, global media and digital strategy at Kellogg.

"I think Marissa has done a good job of listening," said Mr. Suarez-Davis, who attended Cannes and noted Mayer did a good job representing her company at a private panel. "She's put in a great team. We continue to invest in Yahoo."

Mayer added that she tends "to try and isolate myself" from some of the public uproar and so she hasn't seen much of the reaction to the IPG dinner. She said she did see some posts from Box Inc. CEO Aaron Levie, who said the only news in the situation was that "Marissa does sleep."

"I did always appreciate that Aaron can see the humor in things," Ms. Mayer said.

When asked if she would return to Cannes next year, Mayer said she would take it as it comes. While calling the event "clearly a good place to reach advertisers," she said she likes to be internally focused and wants her team to have the opportunity to interact with clients.

"We'll make sure Yahoo is well represented in Cannes next year," she said.

~ Bloomberg News with Ad Age staff ~

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