MEDIA HEADLINER: Yahoo!'s steady hand Martina King takes a crack at Europe

King will bring confidence and experience to Yahoo! Europe, Alasdair Reid says.

Anyone other than Martina King would fret about the fact they'd been handed an exciting new opportunity at an internet company in the week that the biggest internet company of them all, AOL Time Warner, posted the biggest ever losses in corporate history. It's the sort of news that's likely to make your Champagne go down the wrong way.

In King's case, though, she probably regards this as the sort of suitably sombre background against which her own talent will shine all the brighter. And, clearly, she has shone at Yahoo!

Last week, in recognition of this, she was promoted from the top job in the UK and Ireland operation, a position she has held since joining the company in 1999, to the role of managing director of country operations across the whole of its European network. Replacing King in the UK will be Fru Hazlitt, who was previously the director of sales and marketing.

Yahoo!'s ability to buck recent trends (the US operation is now substantially in the black and last autumn it moved into profitability on an international front, too) has a lot to do with the quality of vision emerging from its Sunnyvale headquarters in California and the brand's enduring power. But its strength in the UK market is, observers say, largely down to King.

What's the secret? King says it helps that she has been round the media block. "I'm experienced," she admits. "I have grown up in media. It makes me sound terribly old, doesn't it, but I've lived through a recession or two."

In fact, King has done just about the lot in her time - print, TV, radio.

If observers have any doubts about King at all, it's the fact that she is very sales oriented. Some critics wonder whether she has a broader strategic vision. Others are in no doubt. Just because she's eminently presentable, it doesn't mean she isn't very clever indeed. Or determined, come to that.

"At a time when a lot of internet companies went a bit wobbly, a bit of experience helped," she admits. "I'd worked for a plc, too - I knew it was important to go through the headcount and know what everyone was actually doing. That's why we didn't have to go through the pain of laying people off. That helped us keep our morale. The internet has been a medium that has had to prove itself. We have made mistakes along the way but I think we have a strong basis now."

Robert Horler, the managing director of Carat Interactive, admits he has been impressed with what King has achieved in the UK: "Yahoo! has been through some tough times but it has come through - and she takes great credit for that personally. The focus has been on cracking the agency side of things. When she came, a lot of the advertising contracts were direct with clients. Yahoo! cracked it because King got her hands dirty. It's also encouraging when it redesigned; for instance, it considered the views and demands of advertisers. It makes people feel this really is a platform for advertisers."

In other major European markets, Yahoo! is not nearly in such a strong position. It's viewed as an Anglo-Saxon product by potential users, which is not necessarily to your advantage in markets such as France. Other European markets have also been less astute in developing their advertising base.

So, the proposition is straightforward - King now has to do for the rest of Europe what she has done for the UK. She wouldn't put it as crudely as that, but yes. The structures of the various advertising markets are roughly similar around Europe, but in some the potential has hardly been tested as yet. Online claims less than 1 per cent of the German ad market.

King will help to focus minds and give them confidence in business models that have been shown to work. Everyone agrees she is likely to help raise energy levels at Yahoo!'s operations around the continent. She's good at that. She has a flamboyantly winning way of going about it too - she's not afraid of dressing up and making a karaoke-style fool of herself in the cause of morale building. Then there was the time in a bar in the small hours when she convinced the less-than-sober Chris Evans sidekick, John Revel, that she was one of the Nolan sisters - the ultimate in self-inflicted humiliation.

Those who know King say she's a highly motivated career woman who's also dedicated to her family. Won't the second half of that equation suffer as she takes on a European role? She'll spend half her life on aeroplanes, her schedule at the mercy of air traffic controllers in Maastricht. Not necessarily. Video conferencing could have a large part to play in her new position.

But it sounds like she's ready to roll up her sleeves. There's a limited amount you can achieve on a flying visit, no matter how often you fly in, she says. "Working with people day in, day out, you can make a real difference."

The King file

1989: The Guardian, display sales manager

1993: Capital Radio, client sales director, rising in 1997 to managing

director

1999: TSMS, managing director

1999: Yahoo! UK and Ireland, managing director

2003: Yahoo! Europe, managing director, country operations

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