Why Yahoo's Terry Semel Is All Smiles

And Other Advice From 'Liquid Brands' at Ad Age's 360 Media Conference

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Yahoo's CEO, Terry Semel, was the keynote speaker at Advertising Age's 360 Media conference yesterday, and he told attendees that Yahoo intends to remain an aggregator of content, licensing content from sources all over the world.
Terry Semel: The Yahoo chief says the portal is 'going to work much more closely with the makers and producers of content.'
Terry Semel: The Yahoo chief says the portal is 'going to work much more closely with the makers and producers of content.'

Akin to Warner Bros.
Over the next six months, he expects to add even more opportunities for user-generated content. "I've never wanted Yahoo to become a major production company," he said, adding that he sees Yahoo as more akin to the early days of TV, where folks like Warner Bros. didn't produce those shows but worked with a lot of people to create them.

Mr. Semel said it's not just important for Yahoo to be a strong brand -- it's also important for the company to prove it can work with its partners to provide reach, relevancy and results.

As to whether established media brands should move first to get their brands in new and emerging media, Mr. Semel said, "If you're going to be disaggregated, disaggregate yourself. If your business is going to change, you better be the one to change it, rather than let the outside world shape you."

"Taking a proactive leadership position about how to transform some of my business to online is something everyone has to do," he said.

'Transformation has begun'
Foreshadowing today's announcement from NBC and News Corp. (in which the media giants said they're launching a YouTube killer, using Yahoo as one of its distribution partners), Mr. Semel told attendees, "You'll see Yahoo do a few things very, very shortly that will indicate that we are going to work much more closely with the makers and producers of content. ... The opportunities of being together, producing together and distributing together are enormous.

"I think the transformation has begun," he added, "and I think it will move at a very fast pace."

As for Yahoo's new advertising platform, Panama, Mr. Semel was bullish. "We do have earnings coming up in two weeks, so I'm not going to say too much more. But last time I was quoted, Feb. 5, I think I said I'm all smiles. I'm totally all smiles. We read and you read about advertisers and their comments, we are very happy, and I'm smiling broadly. We really feel great."

Starcom USA, which co-sponsored the one-day conference, provided an overview from Starcom MediaVest Group President Laura Desmond, who opened the day by laying out why it's important to have "liquid brands" that can easily move from platform to platform.

A panel of media-brand advocates followed, including Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia's president-CEO, Susan Lyne; Playboy Enterprises's chairman-CEO Christie Hefner; and Meredith Corp. Publishing Group President Jack Griffin.

Brand as a theme park
Ms. Hefner described a brand as a theme park, and said the products under that brand are the souvenirs you take home.

Screenwriter Nora Ephron, who was just named The Huffington Post's editor at large, entertained as she expounded on how blogging and other advancements have revolutionized the web experience.

Ms. Ephron praised the concept of instant cyber storytelling that can happen on blogs and added that no print medium would ever print 25,000 words of someone's journal. At the same time, she noted that blogging differs from other kinds of writing. It's not essay writing and it's not speech writing. "It's like a soap bubble," she said, explaining that a blog post is meant to be relevant only for a moment and isn't meant to be seen as the end of the conversation -- instead, it should start the conversation.

How do they do it?
So how do marketers with liquid brands do it?

During "Moving Beyond the Traditional: Real Life Success Stories," Judy Girard, president, HGTV; Robert Gregory, group publisher, Dennis Publishing's Maxim; and Scot M. Safron, senior VP-marketing/promotions, CNN Worldwide, spoke about their companies successes with the multiplatform strategy.

Ms. Girard said it was easier for HGTV to move toward multiplatform marketing as opposed to a network such as Bravo because HGTV is a categorized network. The channel's two new projects, "Rate My Room" and "Designstar," have pushed the network to utilize more user-generated content online. By allowing visitors to voice their input, traffic on HGTV's site has skyrocketed.

"The reason this has exploded is because they're talking to each other," Ms. Girard said. "The users are beginning to tell us they want a very specific platform."

Maxim Casino
Mr. Gregory offered a free-spirited presentation. Although Maxim-branded milk wouldn't exactly work for the magazine, brand extensions moving toward mobile, radio and a Las Vegas casino (slotted to open in 2010) have proved highly successful for the company.

"We are connecting the dots and feeding social currency to the guys," Mr. Gregory said.

Mr. Gregory imparted a list of seven commandments for brand extensions including: "Beware of fads"; "Don't compete with the magazine and your advertisers"; and "Don't forget to make money."
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