Blake Chandlee has taken to the UK like a duck to water. The outgoing American, whose large personality feels a little out of place in Yahoo!'s faceless corporate Shaftesbury Avenue headquarters, was brought over to the UK by Yahoo! a little over a year ago to add some impetus to its commercial operations.
Apparently, things weren't in a good state and Chandlee was referred to as the American equivalent of Sir John Harvey-Jones, given the troubleshooting nature of this task, which related to the apparently poor nature of Yahoo!'s customer service and ad delivery.
Since his arrival, though, Chandlee is proving to be rather popular on the UK advertising scene. He's already been invited to become a member of the Solus Club, and is renowned for a love of good food and wine and cracking open the bottles of tequila at awards nights.
"The media world here is full of passionate people and it's a real village, I've been lucky to be adopted as part of it," Chandlee says.
Chandlee's popularity increased in July when he impressed Yahoo!'s contacts by arranging a trip to the World Cup final. He made a big impression on one of his guests, the former Toyota marketer Mike Moran, now the founder of The Orchard Consultancy. Moran actually wrote to the US ambassador to claim Chandlee as one of our own, arguing he couldn't possibly be an American because: "He stays up until after 10.30pm - on one occasion ten hours later than this; he can drink more than three beers and remain coherent; and he can continue with this performance for more than one night. It will now be clear to you beyond all reasonable doubt that there can be no circumstances under which Mr Chandlee can be a native of your fine country."
Despite Moran's intervention, Chandlee has no plans to renounce his US passport, but it's clear that the American enjoys working in London. That said, and despite the adoption of football and rugby as his new favourite sports, it has not all been fun for Chandlee. He faced serious challenges at Yahoo! when he arrived: "The UK is ahead of most markets in the world, but there's a major element of direct marketing to it. The big brands are only now starting to experiment."
Chandlee's immediate task was to promote the internet as a branding mechanism, and to make sure Yahoo! was in a good place to capitalise on this. Accordingly, he has made changes to the commercial team - bringing in talent such as AOL's Miles Lewis, as the head of agency sales, and IDS's Mark Connolly, as the head of commercial development, in an attempt to forge better relationships with ad, digital and media agencies.
The most recent initiative was last week's deal with Vodafone, to provide advertising via the mobile network (see page 19), but Chandlee concedes that this medium is still early in its evolution as a branding tool. More fundamentally, Chandlee and his team identified investment in strategic research and consumer insight as the way forward and claims that this is paying off.
However, despite improving on its trading relationships beyond recognition, Yahoo! still has its critics. Wayne Arnold, the managing director of Profero and the chairman of IPA Digital, says: "Yahoo! is in a difficult space. It's clear what Google stands for, but it looks like Yahoo! is caught on the back foot a bit. Is it an entertainment company or is it a technology company?"
Yahoo! has attracted some negative publicity of late following a less than impressive third-quarter results announcement, indicating profits were down by 38 per cent. Google's capture of YouTube from under Yahoo!'s nose also left some analysts wondering if Yahoo! had missed another trick, although Chandlee has a different version of events: "To think we didn't look at YouTube would be wrong - we looked and made a different decision to Google. We felt the YouTube model faced challenges with regards to copyright."
Chandlee argues that Yahoo! remains committed to video, saying it is the biggest supplier of online video services in the US and globally. He argues that its recent deals with Flickr and Delicious are significant purchases in the social media field, and that the future model for advertisers will be one where advertisers edit consumer content, much as Nike did with its recent World Cup campaign.
Chandlee is almost evangelical about appreciating the differences between the US and UK markets, but critics of Yahoo! argue he hasn't been given sufficient autonomy. Martin Kelly, the managing director of the Omnicom digital media specialist Media Republic, says: "It's a bit tethered by the US. There has been pressure in the US market, and the Yahoo! share price has dropped. Rightly so, because it failed to understand sufficiently the uptake of social media."
On top of convincing the doubters that its brand can grow in future years, Chandlee also faces the issue of creating a more seamless UK offer by using the power of the three Yahoo! brands - Yahoo!'s portal business, Yahoo! Search (formerly known as Overture) and Kelkoo, which it acquired around 18 months ago. "Some agencies want a single buying point with ITV and The Guardian and News International, so, in this world, Yahoo! having a single trading point is still only a consideration, but we're making progress," he says.
There's still plenty of work for him to complete, but Chandlee has certainly moved Yahoo!'s UK operations in the right direction.
- Live Issue, page 19
Age 40 - young enough to still be tempted into drinking tequila, old
enough to know better
Lives: The greatest city in the world - London
Family: Wife Pam, son Spencer, six
Most treasured possessions: See above
Last books you read: The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman, It's Not
About the Bike by Lance Armstrong and Blink by Malcom Gladwell
Hobbies: Mountain climbing and other assorted things that make no
common-sense to most of us
Personal mottos: "Live life to its fullest" and "Just do it" (my brother
does work for Nike, but there's no link)