Yahoo just hired a new head of sales. It’s former Washington Post chief revenue officer Kevin Gentzel. Prior to his year at the Post, Gentzel worked at Forbes.com and Forbes.
It’s an important hire for Yahoo and its CEO Marissa Mayer.
Mayer came into Yahoo in 2012 with little experience in the advertising business. She thought she could make up for that lack by hiring Google advertising executive Henrique de Castro to be Yahoo’s chief operating officer and de facto head of sales.
De Castro barely made it a year at Yahoo, leaving in January 2014.
Since then, Mayer has herself split head of sales duties with an executive she poached from AOL, Yahoo’s head of Americas, Ned Brody.
The problem has been that neither Brody nor Mayer are the kind of classic, back-slapping, relationships-building sales people that agency clients like to work with. Brody is very analytical — almost consultant-like.
Mayer is just not that comfortable in small group settings. Or, at least, she doesn’t make the people in meetings with her comfortable.
As CEO, Mayer is also extremely busy, and a few times over the past nine months relationships with clients has suffered because of it. Infamously, Mayer showed up to a client meeting in Cannes this summer a couple hours late. She said she overslept.
So is Gentzel the kind of executive who can repair and maintain Yahoo’s client relationships?
We spoke to a number of his former coworkers as well as industry sources. Here’s what we heard.
- Yahoo has known it’s needed to hire a head of sales for months now, and it’s word is that it’s had a very hard time. Gentzel was not the company’s first choice.
- Gentzel’s old boss at Forbes.com, Jim Spanfeller, is a huge fan. “Kevin is very good with clients and is very well connected at the CMO level. Hurray for him…and for Yahoo.”
- A couple sources wondered if Gentzel, who built his career at old media companies, has a firm enough grasp on the state of advertising technology. At Forbes, selling online ad inventory is still secondary to selling print inventory.
- Spanfeller says that won’t be a worry for Yahoo: “I can see why folks might say that as he spent the lion’s share of his career at Forbes Magazine. But then again, I spent the entirety of my career at magazine before I got to Forbes.com. When Kevin came over to Forbes.com he had a bit of a learning curve to be sure. But at this point, I have to believe that he has been totally ‘digitized.'”
- An industry source says that Gentzel lives up to many of the stereotypes of online ad sales people. He’s slick. He uses your first name too much in conversation.
- This person says that if Yahoo hired Gentzel for his relationship skills, it should be a good fit, because that’s what magazine ad sales are all about.
- This person wonders if Gentzel might be a bit out of his depth at first at Yahoo. Forbes is a $US100 million annual business. Yahoo revenues clock in closer to $US5 billion.
- Another source describes Gentzel as an “ambitious, agency sales guy.” This source dismissed concerns about Gentzel’s background in print. “He is certainly a hybrid and has a background in print but he gets digital.”
- A former colleague of Gentzel’s says he is “a super smart guy.” “He’s been successful everywhere he’s gone. He’s well-polished. He’s got excellent connections. He’s intense and he’s leader. He is comfortable in the spot light. People like working for him.”
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