Unlike Twitter’s likely new owner and its many cofounders, Parag Agrawal, the new CEO, tweets only occasionally. But he did so last week, seeking to reassure a key group of Twitter stakeholders—advertisers, who contribute the lifeblood of company revenue—that the party was still on.
Agrawal was referring to Twitter’s presentation at the annual New Front meetings in New York, where media companies like Twitter host presentations for advertisers outlining their plans for new products and their priorities for the rest of the year. And with that new owner, Elon Musk, having cast doubt on Twitter’s ad-driven business model during his $44 billion proposal to buy the company, the gathering assumed greater importance than it ordinarily might, a chance for Twitter executives to bolster advertiser confidence.
Twitter hosted it at Pier 17 in lower Manhattan Wednesday, a glassy space overlooking the East River and the Brooklyn skyline (and in the distance, a view of Lady Liberty). These moments are always a time for the host companies to dazzle advertisers, the better to pry away their marketing-budget dollars.
“It has been a quiet month at Twitter, so there is no better time for all of us to get together,” JP Maheu, Twitter’s head of global client solutions, told the crowd, commencing the evening.
The Twitter event, the planning for which began several months ago, included a half-dozen, museum-like stations showcasing Twitter’s role in global culture. There was a mock Olympics podium—Twitter had a lucrative deal with NBC to broadcast behind-the-scenes content from the Tokyo Summer Games and the Beijing Winter Games—and a hexagon-shaped, touchscreen-filled room showcasing Twitter’s relationship with video games, an industry with ever more advertising money to spend. Then there was Closeby, a section of plush blue carpet devoted to Twitter’s intersection with the entertainment world. (Why go with the classic—and predictable—choice of a red carpet when you’re Twitter and blue’s been your color for 16 years?) There were burger and bao bars, as well as several open bars and a DJ adding to the mood.
Twitter’s standing in culture is unmatched for its size, but much has been said, including by Musk, that its cultural cachet outweighs its business success. Twitter has lately tried to achieve a better balance, boosting revenue to $5.1 billion in 2021, a 47% increase in two years. On Wednesday, it detailed new partnerships with Fox Sports around soccer’s 2022 World Cup in Qatar, a slate of programming similar to the NBC-Olympics deal. (That World Cup programming? All sponsorable, dear advertisers in attendance!) It also announced content deals with Essence magazine, Diddy’s Revolt media and the WNBA (sponsorable!), adding to the sense of diversity Twitter has worked hard to boost. The company also discussed new advertising products around so-called social shopping, an idea popular already among Asian consumers that marries e-commerce and social media more closely. Leading the presentation was Sarah Personette, Twitter’s chief customer officer. “I hope that you see that we are going to continue to invest in the parts of our business that bring scroll-stopping content to the time line,” she said.
In reassuring advertisers, Twitter works to secure both its short-term future as Musk’s $44 billion buyout winds to completion, as well as its longer-term one. Whether Musk would like to admit it or not, the work last night in Thursday will make his life better. His takeover will make Twitter’s financial situation precarious, adding $12.5 billion in debt, and Twitter needs its core advertising business to remain intact to keep things going. The financial arithmetic doesn’t work without it, even as Musk considers additional revenue streams. (Earlier this week, for instance, he suggested companies and governments using Twitter may need to pay for access.) Advertisers, for now, seem to disinclined to rush for the exists, preferring to take a wait-and-see approach to a Musk-run Twitter.
“We want to stick with them. It’s Twitter,” shrugged one executive from a multi-billion-dollar brand last night, fizzing drink with lime in hand. You could see the Blue Carpet and the Olympics podium from there, reinforcing the person’s point: Twitter is an essential place for conversation about global occurrences. “Who knows what’s going to happen—who knows what Musk wants? Do you know what Musk wants? He does seem very good at getting headlines.” Another executive standing nearby nodded in agreement.
One of Twitter’s longest-serving hands was there, TJ Adeshola, the head of its content partnerships. The Musk arrival had not changed his presentation about Fox and the other deals, he insisted. “It’s been business as usual,” he said. “The Met Gala, the NBA playoffs. We have a real-time superpower,” emphasizing the sense that Twitter offers users and advertisers an immediacy and intimacy to an event unmatched by traditional media. Recently, “the time line has been full of rich content.” Indeed, it sure has.