Why Yahoo Will Miss Joanne Bradford

Last Updated Mar 17, 2010 3:27 PM EDT

Most executive departures make you shrug, but some set off alarm bells. So it was when I heard that Joanne Bradford, Yahoo's ad sales chief, was leaving the company after 18 months to go to Demand Media, as its chief revenue officer. This is horrible news for Yahoo, a company which depends on marketing services revenue and needs a high-profile sales executive to convince Madison Avenue that it still has its mojo. I know Bradford well enough to know she's no fool. If she's leaving Yahoo, there's good reason for it.

Bradford, former head of MSN, and a one-time print sales exec for BusinessWeek, could bridge the gap between the glad-handing still required to woo blue-chip clients and the deep knowledge of online advertising that can make the medium so compelling. Though no one was predicting a kick-ass future in the near-term for Yahoo, its first-quarter guidance suggested that revenue might come in slightly higher than it did during Q1 2009 - the range is $1.58 billion to $1.68 billion; revenues came in at $1.58 billion a year ago.

Most of that revenue was probably already booked, so the real indication of what a big blow this is will come later this year. With so many other options available, Yahoo needs a strong ad sales force. (Bradford was also running a search partnership between Yahoo and Microsoft's Bing, wherein Yahoo sells inventory to major advertisers, while Yahoo makes Bing its default search service.)

Bradford's departure, and other factors, including the continued rise of Facebook and Bing, has Nicholas Carlson over at Silicon Alley Insider musing about something rather tantalizing: an AOL/Yahoo merger, with Yahoo chief Carol Bartz taking the chairmanship and Tim Armstrong staying on as CEO of AOL. Armstrong has more of the vision thing going than Bartz does. Such a merger has efficiencies aplenty, but it's missing a strong presence in social media. That may be part of the reason that Bradford bolted.

By heading to Demand, a content farm with social-media underpinnings, Bradford gets to play in a big social sandbox; helping companies adopt Demand's social media platform will part of her mission. At Yahoo that sandbox wasn't nearly as full of shiny new toys.

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