Why Carolyn Everson left Facebook and what it means for advertisers
Carolyn Everson’s exit from Facebook signals a new era for the advertising business at the social network and it came as a surprise for people at the company and the brands who worked closely with her for more than 10 years.
Everson did not give a definitive reason for her immediate departure, but people close to her said she had grown frustrated running interference for Facebook and its foibles. Then last week, Everson was hurt when Facebook gave the chief business officer position to Marne Levine, a job that Everson would have taken if offered, according to several people who are close to Everson and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The executive shake-up would have made Levine Everson’s new boss. Everson had been directly reporting to David Fischer, chief revenue officer, but he announced in March he would step away. “I think it’s outrageous that she just wasn’t given that job,” says one Everson confidant. “She shouldn’t have even had to audition.”
Fischer will officially leave Facebook in the fall, and Levine's ascension to chief business officer placed her above Fischer in the organization's hierarchy.
Everson did not return a request for comment on Wednesday. Everson had been with Facebook since 2011, serving as head of ad sales as the leader of global business group.
People within Facebook and at ad agencies who have worked with Everson said her resignation was abrupt, but that it was her decision to leave, not Facebook’s. “People at Facebook were as surprised as we were at the news,” says one ad agency exec after receiving the news.
Facebook has not commented publicly on Everson except for a note wishing her well. “We wish Carolyn the best as she moves into a new chapter,” the statement said. “We are grateful for her contributions.”
Everson’s move is a blow to Facebook’s advertising mission, according to ad agency execs who built close ties to Facebook under her stewardship. Facebook has made a series of missteps that put the company at odds with advertisers over the years, and Everson was always cleaning up after the spills.
“The issues with Facebook and advertisers are now only going to get worse, because a lot of the slack that Facebook was afforded by major advertisers came a lot from people’s respect [for] Carolyn, and believed that when she says Facebook is serious about solving it they believe her, moreso than they would believe Mark [Zuckerberg] and Sheryl [Sandberg],” said one marketing executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Carloyn is the face of Facebook to major companies. They don’t have meetings with Sheryl, they sure as hell don’t have meetings with Mark.”
A Facebook spokesperson disputed the idea that Zuckerberg and Sandberg are not engaged directly with brands and ad agency partners. The two Facebook leaders hold multiple meetings with advertisers, some as recently as May, the spokesperson said.
Everson spent many Advertising Weeks and Cannes festivals going to bat for Facebook after its mistakes. Those misteps include when the social network in 2016 was in hot water for misreporting video metrics that marketers relied on to plan their ad strategies. The reporting errors seemed to inflate how well videos performed. Everson responded by promising transparency and accountability.
Then there were data leaks that surfaced after the 2016 election, when Cambridge Analytica used Facebook’s ad platform to mine information on almost 90 million users. The episode forced Facebook to reshape how its ad platform interacts with third-parties, and also pay a $5 billion fine to the Federal Trade Commission.
In 2020, a civil rights movement grew to boycott Facebook over the proliferation of hate speech and disinformation, especially coming from white supremacy groups and unscrupulous foreign actors around the presidential election. More than 1,000 brands joined the boycott last July to signal their disapproval of Facebook’s policies, and to force changes.
CEO Zuckerberg and Sandberg, chief operating officer, downplayed the effects of the boycott, noting many times that Facebook has close to 10 million advertisers. The company said it would not bow to pressure from the largest advertisers, but it did promise changes like more brand safety controls, a greater commitment to civil rights, and more transparency.
Through it all Everson was the communicator, who ferried the message to advertisers, and has been the one to smooth it all over. That’s a role that will be missed dearly, according to people who know her.
“They’re going to miss this,” said a person close to Facebook. “It has always fallen on Carolyn to be the voice of the industry, to say it’s not that bad, and now I’m not so sure.”
As for where Everson goes next, that is still up in the air. Everson already has fielded offers and could go to another tech company, one person familiar with her thinking said.
“Anyone who is at that level of ad sales doesn’t work because they need to do it,” says another agency executive. “They do it because they love it or maybe they have certain financial goals, but they don’t need to work at that point. So, it’s not crazy to say could, ‘I could do other things with my life.’”