Marissa Mayer and Vogue – appropriate or not?

The debate continues on whether Marissa Mayer’s controversial photo in Vogue is or is not business faux pas. Here’s the response from Crissy Lintner, managing director for our Dallas division.

Crissy’s Take:

Does Marissa Mayer have a lot to prove? You bet she does. But what caused the hullabaloo about her Vogue article? It wasn’t the content – it was the photos and the fact that a high-level CEO, who is female, was posing in a not-so-stodgy sort of way for a photo spread in Vogue.

My question: If Richard Branson had been featured in a Time photo chronology, for example, with a photo teaser “Hard Knock Life” and a shot of him in the water surrounded by bikini-clad models, would there have been such a loud fuss? I doubt it. In fact, that actually happened while Branson was promoting the maiden flight of his flagship airline, Virgin Atlantic, from London to Sydney. However, Mayer, as a woman in a high-level, executive position in a male-dominated tech industry, was blasted – not for the content, but for the photo. Her photo was incredibly conservative and tasteful when compared to Branson’s.

The article itself, focusing on office life, motherhood and what it takes to be a CEO is what any good feature should be for a lifestyle/fashion magazine. It’s not going to be a number-crunching outlook for business growth at Yahoo. And the result is a good example of diverse pitching opportunities that allow PR professionals to highlight other sides of high-level executives, like Marissa Mayer. The photos fit what is expected from the publication – high-end, luxurious, fashion-forward. The subject just happens to be a pretty, young, blonde, female CEO.

To Courtney’s point, revenues at Yahoo have been falling – there’s no doubt there. But a report last week showed that Yahoo was the most popular website last month with 196.6 million monthly unique views – beating out Google, Microsoft and Facebook. Google, in comparison, hit only 192.3 million uniques. Many analysts in the industry believe this to be the first of a major boost for Mayer and Yahoo, given their focus on mobile sites and purchase of the blogging site Tumblr.

So, while she may still have much to prove and her initial decisions (not to mention maternity leave in the first year of her job there) were a bit non-traditional, it looks like Mayer’s efforts are starting to pay off. To me, a sexy photo spread is not a sign that Mayer is resorting to the “ways of old,” when women were thought only to be good for looks and not fit to lead a multi-billion dollar business – or were promoted to those types of positions by other means. Instead, I find the Vogue spread to be one that embraces the power that a female CEO can bring and a little bit of PR ingenuity to build buzz and interest in Yahoo. After all, isn’t the goal of any editorial content to create buzz and awareness about a person, product or company? I think this photo spread accomplished just that.