Marissa Mayer and Vogue – appropriate or not?

Marissa Mayer made headlines last week when announcements came about her sexy Vogue photo spread and article. Across the PR industry, experts were weighing in, and at Obsidian, opinions vary. Today and tomorrow, we’ll share two opposing viewpoints from our firm. The first comes from Courtney Ellett, owner of Obsidian, and second comes from Crissy Lintner, managing director in Dallas.

Courtney’s Take:
We were both born in May 1975, and she is 20 days my junior. Maybe that’s why I paid a good deal of attention to the news in July 2012 when Marissa Mayer was appointed president and CEO of Yahoo.

Sure, lots of people paid attention to this news, but I took it to heart as a 30-something female business owner. And I’ve paid close attention to news related to her ever since (something I don’t necessarily do with personnel changes at big tech companies). So when I saw that Mayer is the subject of a glamour-shot photo in September’s Vogue – I think I found out by Twitter, by the way – an opinion immediately formed in my mind. My first thought was “What? That can’t be right.”

Let me say that I’m not one to immediately shout out my personal takes on strangers’ actions and choices. However, the very subject was brought up at our office because this photo is stirring up discussion in our very own industry. It seems people are torn on Mayer’s choice to do the shoot, and even in our 15-person office, we have different opinions. So here’s mine.

Does it bother me that Mayer is a young female CEO lying seductively on a deck chair? No, not really. Vogue is all about female beauty in all its incarnations. I don’t read Vogue religiously, and honestly, most of what I know of it comes from my viewing of every single episode of Sex and the City. And the photo is beautiful. I instantly thought – ooh, I like those shoes! That’s the woman in me. Visually captivating photo, great clothes, love the lipstick and what a lovely deck chair!

But the business person in me has a different take. Mayer was brought to Yahoo to turn the company around. A lot of hoopla was created because she’s a female and such a young one and had a child during her first year there. There aren’t a lot like her in Silicon Valley (to my knowledge). And so entered the opportunity to make a real impression and a real difference. Because of this, plenty of coverage has been dedicated to any move that Mayer makes at Yahoo, from the telecommuting ban to her adjustment to the company’s maternity leave policy and the spring 2013 acquisition of Tumblr.

Those are significant operational moves by a CEO, sure. But what about Yahoo’s financial viability? What about revenues? What about the turnaround she was brought in for? I personally hadn’t seen news on that when this photo caught my eye. But I did find the following information after a quick Wikipedia search:

“In July 2013, Yahoo reported a fall in revenues, but a rise in profits compared with the same period in the previous year. In her announcement, Mayer chose to ignore the continued revenue slide, and instead hailed the company’s relentless release of new mobile offerings. Reaction on Wall Street was muted, with shares falling 1.7%.”

“Continued revenue slide.” Yeah, that stands out. Sure, it’s only been 13 months since she joined Yahoo. Turnarounds do not happen that quickly, and many things may be in the pipeline over there that are laying the right foundation for such a turnaround. But this is my point exactly. It’s SO early to really know what impact Mayer will have. So why in the world is she taking time for a Vogue spread that has nothing to do with her company’s performance?

So I say, “Concentrate on your job, Marissa.” This, to me, distracts from her professional mission of getting Yahoo on the right track. To me, this is another example of someone being known as a CEO celebrity and not a great CEO (she may be, but I don’t know and only time will tell).

There are people known for their career results, and others are known for the news they make. I liken this to the many young folks in Hollywood who are famous for just being famous (I’m sure you know who I’m talking about). Mayer hasn’t proven herself (to the laypeople of the world just yet). When she does, maybe I’ll have a different opinion when she does photo shoots like this.