Will Yahoo Un-Coolify Tumblr?

Screen Shot 2013 05 21 at 4.09.09 PM Will Yahoo Un Coolify Tumblr?“We promise not to screw it up,” Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer wrote, tongue-in-cheek, on the Tumblr blog she launched Monday, the day Yahoo announced its $1.1 billion acquisition of the popular micro-blogging site that is all the rage with the cool kids. If only Tumblr’s users could trust that. Judging from their online comments, many of them view Yahoo’s purchase of the anything goes blogging platform as a nervous teenager might watch Dad try out her skateboard. (“Be careful – and don’t break it.”)

Tumblr is Mayer’s seventh acquisition since she took the helm last year of once-dominant Yahoo, which is struggling to find relevance and its footing against rivals like Google and Facebook. The acquisition makes sense for Yahoo, analysts agreed, as it seeks to find cache with the vital, but famously fickle 18-to-24-year-old market segment. Tumblr, home to 109 million blogs and 51 billion posts, made just $13 million last year. Yahoo is looking to integrate and monetize it gently and slowly  and will let founder David Karp continue to run it more-or-less independently. (He also told users not to worry.

Only time will tell if buying Tumblr will make Yahoo “cool” or work in reverse, driving away the exact group of habit-forming users Yahoo hopes to capture. Mayer’s “screw it up” comment is an awkward and nervous acknowledgement of that possibility, but it is also a mea culpa reference to Yahoo’s record of game-changing acquisitions that tankedBetter that she call it out herself.

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Yahoo and its CEO, for making a stiff new pair of cool shoes seem to fit.

The PR Takeaway: What principals say at M&A time has to resonate with a lot of audiences – investors, competitors, existing and new customers. Managing change means setting expectations and allaying fears. On the latter point, humor, even if hokey, can help – in Yahoo’s case, a shot of the self-deprecating sarcasm especially favored by the younger crowd. Pitch-perfect messaging is essential: While you walk the walk, you still must talk the talk. But always make sure to give your sound bites the smell test.

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William Dentzer About William Dentzer

William Dentzer, a San Francisco-based writer and communications/media consultant, has managed corporate communications and media relations at global firms such as UBS, Bain & Company, The Associated Press, and British consultancy Arup. He previously served as a mayoral press secretary and was a longtime political reporter and columnist with the Gannett newspaper chain in New York.

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