Elon Musk’s Twitter Faces Exodus of Advertisers and Executives

SAN FRANCISCO — Twitter is facing an exodus of executives and skittish advertisers as Elon Musk and his advisers take control of the social media company, prepare to lay off employees and make changes to the product.

At least five top Twitter executives — including the chief marketing officer, the chief customer officer, the head of people and diversity, and the head of product — have departed the company in recent days, according to seven people with knowledge of the matter and public statements. Two announced their departures on Twitter on Tuesday; they did not say why they had quit. More executives may leave, the people said.

At the same time, advertisers — which provide about 90 percent of Twitter’s revenue — are increasingly grappling with Mr. Musk’s ownership of the platform. The billionaire, who is meeting advertising executives in New York this week, has spooked some advertisers because he has said he would loosen Twitter’s content rules, which could lead to a surge in misinformation and other toxic content.

IPG, one of the world’s largest advertising companies, issued a recommendation on Monday through its media agencies for clients to temporarily pause their spending on Twitter because of moderation concerns, three people with knowledge of the communication said. The Global Alliance for Responsible Media, a coalition of platforms, advertisers and industry groups that is fighting harmful content on social media, also said this week that it was monitoring how Twitter planned to deal with content moderation.

Twitter has been in disarray as it adjusts to a new reality under Mr. Musk, who closed his $44 billion buyout of the company last week. Mr. Musk immediately fired Twitter’s chief executive, its chief financial officer and others before moving quickly to install close confidants and trusted engineers from his other companies at the social media firm.

Since then, Mr. Musk and his advisers have been working on product changes and major cuts to Twitter’s rank and file. Managers at Twitter, which has about 7,500 employees, have said they are finishing up lists of high- and low-performing workers, most likely with an eye toward layoffs. While several employees have already been let go, the timing and scope of mass layoffs remain fluid.

On Tuesday, Mr. Musk declared on Twitter that users would start paying $8 a month for the Twitter Blue service, which would verify users with a check mark. Subscribers would see fewer ads, be able to share long videos and bypass paywalls at news organizations that team up with Twitter, he said.

“Power to the people!” he tweeted.

A Twitter spokeswoman declined to comment. Mr. Musk did not respond to a request for comment. IPG did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A reporter for the tech and finance newsletter Morning Brew earlier tweeted IPG’s recommendation.

The executives who left Twitter in recent days include Leslie Berland, the chief marketing officer; Jay Sullivan, the head of product; Sarah Personette, the chief customer officer, who managed the company’s relationships with advertisers; Dalana Brand, the head of people and diversity; and Nick Caldwell, the executive responsible for core technologies like infrastructure. Their exits leave Twitter with few of the leaders it had before Mr. Musk closed the deal for the company on Thursday.

Ms. Personette met Mr. Musk last week to discuss Twitter’s advertising partnerships, she said in a tweet. After their meeting, Mr. Musk published an open letter to advertisers, saying Twitter would not become a “free-for-all hellscape.” He also said Twitter would form a council to advise on content moderation.

In the tweet about her departure, Ms. Personette said she believed that Mr. Musk’s team “understands the importance of holding up the standards” set by the Global Alliance for Responsible Media.

The coalition wrote in a blog post on Monday that it was monitoring how Twitter planned to set up a panel to review content moderation. It said it would share its assessments with members in the advertising industry. Twitter has been part of the coalition since the group’s inception in 2019.

“Brand safety is non-negotiable for advertisers,” the group wrote.

IPG’s recommendation on pausing spending on Twitter followed an announcement from General Motors, which said last week that it was temporarily suspending its advertising on Twitter. G.M. is a competitor of Mr. Musk’s electric vehicle company, Tesla.

IPG, a holding company with several agencies handling advertising spending, has clients such as American Express, Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Mattel and Spotify. Its Mediabrands division manages roughly $40 billion in marketing investment globally.

Katie Klumper, the chief executive of Black Glass, a consulting firm owned by IPG, said the company had surveyed many of its clients, which include Walmart, Pepsi and Cadillac. Most of them said they were planning to pause their spending on Twitter until they had more confidence and clarity on the platform’s direction, she said.

“They’re just opting out of the drama,” she said. “They’re actively watching this unfold, watching Elon and his comments hourly, saying, ‘Let me see how this all plays out before I decide to attach my brand and business to this.’”

More than 40 civil rights groups also sent an open letter to 20 of Twitter’s top advertisers on Tuesday, urging them to suspend their advertising on Twitter if Mr. Musk throws out the platform’s content moderation safeguards. The letter, organized by groups such as Free Press and Media Matters for America and signed by organizations such as GLAAD and the N.A.A.C.P., was sent to top executives at companies such as Amazon, CBS, Coca-Cola, Disney, Mondelez and Procter & Gamble.

“If Elon Musk follows through with just a fraction of what he has already committed to doing, then Twitter will not and cannot be a safe platform for brands,” the groups wrote. “Urgent action is needed by advertisers.”

Ms. Brand, who oversaw human resources and diversity initiatives at Twitter, said she had also resigned on Friday. Mr. Caldwell alluded to his departure by updating his Twitter profile as a “former” Twitter executive. Four people familiar with the matter confirmed he and Mr. Sullivan had left the company.

Ms. Berland left Twitter on Tuesday, three people with knowledge of the matter said. She tweeted a blue heart emoji, an apparent reference to Twitter’s brand color.

Ms. Personette, Ms. Berland, Ms. Brand, Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Caldwell did not respond to requests for comment.

Mike Isaac contributed reporting.

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