Over the weekend, I engaged in an interesting email exchange with Sir Martin Sorrell, the founder of WPP plc, the world’s largest advertising and P.R. group. After he resigned in 2018 amid an investigation about personal misconduct, at the height of the #MeToo era, the energetic Sorrell, now 77 years old, started S4 Capital plc., a premier digital advertising and marketing company that now has 9,100 employees in 32 countries. I reached out, as you can imagine, with questions about the operational viability of Twitter.
As we know, Elon Musk fired some 50 percent of the 7,500-strong Twitter workforce, including its C.E.O., C.F.O. and general counsel, days after closing his $44 billion deal. Other important executives have also left or been fired, although there is some reporting now that maybe Elon went too berserk in his reduction-in-force and has asked some of them to return. (Good luck with that, Elon.) He’s also bungled his planned changes to the “blue check” system on Twitter, which would eliminate the idea that a checkmark reflects some level of verification in favor of giving the badge to anyone willing to pay $8 a month. (What’s the point of it, then?) In any event, Elon has postponed the blue check reckoning until after yesterday’s midterm elections, so we’ll know soon enough whether this will be a revenue generator for Twitter or not.
But I was most interested in the revenue piece, especially given Elon’s bizarre “naming and shaming” exercise with Twitter’s advertisers. Among those companies that have paused their Twitter advertising are Audi, General Mills, GM, Mondelez, Pfizer, United Airlines and CBS News. That’s not an auspicious sign for an advertising-dependent business with $13 billion in debt that is weighing on its lenders’ balance sheets. To top it all off, there was the kerfuffle over the weekend that resulted in the comedienne Kathy Griffin getting suspended for life from Twitter because she had the audacity to impersonate Elon without properly labeling her tweets as parody. That puts Griffin on the same plane as Donald Trump, the insurrectionist and once-and-possibly-future president. So much for Elon’s pledge to make Twitter a temple of free speech.