SYahoo CEO Jerry Yang publicly pines for another bid from Microsoft. On stage at the Web 2.0 Summit conference yesterday, he said, again, that he was open to talks. Microsoft has taken pains to say it's not interested. But really, besides corporate raider Carl Icahn, who cares? A new leadership team, all with lengthy Microsoft resumes, has taken over key parts of Yahoo.Joanne Bradford, a longtime sales chief at MSN who later headed up Microsoft's content operations, now runs U.S. sales. Jeff Dossett, after a protracted job dance with both Microsoft and Yahoo, just took over Yahoo's "audience" group, which oversees its media websites. And Eric Hadley, another longtime Microsoftie, has just gotten a job running marketing. The three all know each other well from MSN and form a tight-knit cabal. And one thing drove them from Microsoft to Yahoo: Microsoft's senseless obsession with Google. MSN has always been an oddball operation at Microsoft. Is it not, at its heart, a media company. That Google figured out a way to turn attracting an online audience and selling advertising into an algorithm infuriated Microsoft's leadership — but the thought that the Web might be a software business after all held a deep attraction to them. Google's strength is in search advertising. And search advertising is bought, while display advertising is sold. Keyword ads practically sell themselves, while banner ads require the careful cultivation of human links between Web publishers and advertisers. In their display-ads sales, Microsoft and Yahoo both took their eye off the ball, distracted by Google. Microsoft will remain distracted, possibly for all time. But Yahoo is beginning to rebuild an ad-sales operation badly wounded by Yahoo president Sue Decker's mishandling of sales chief Wenda Harris Millard. That's what Bradford, Dossett, and Hadley have figured out. If there's still a role for humans in the packaging of audiences for advertisers, it's going to be filled at Yahoo, not Microsoft. It is a chancy, contrarian bet; running up against both Google and Microsoft takes guts. But it's no coincidence that so many Microsoft executives are now at Yahoo.
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