DealZone

Bunch of Yahoos

A string of Yahoo sales, engineering and product executives took the stage on Wednesday in the company’s first full-day briefing with analysts since May 2006, all with a mantra that came down from on high: “Today is the beginning of a journey back to respect,” said CEO Carol Bartz.

With page views increasing, Carl Icahn having drawn in his horns, and the company extending a deadline for finalizing a search agreement with Microsoft, the time was right for a love-in.

Finance Chief Tim Morse said Yahoo expects to achieve operating margins between 15 percent and 20 percent by 2012. After the third quarter’s “pathetic” 6 percent, shareholders would certainly consider that a more respectful performance.

Another way to show their respect would have been to give specific details on the engineering involved in the promised prestige. Executives said Yahoo would achieve the new margin targets by accelerating its revenue in the next few years, but demurred from providing a specific revenue growth target.

The company said it would invest in editorial staff to produce more original features, and tweak its online products to keep users on the site longer and boost advertising revenue.

Did he say IPO?

Speaking in New Delhi, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt said “Discussions are ongoing whether it is an IPO or another partnership,” in response to a question on whether GE was talking to Comcast to sell a stake in the fourth-placed TV network and movie studio. With Vivendi possibly just a couple weeks away from unloading its 20 percent stake in the NBC venture, and all the talk this week about Comcast gathering coins to add the content trove to its cable mix, it might seem as if Immelt is trying to conjure something like a rabbit from a hat – or a peacock from a beret.

GE and Comcast are discussing a deal under which the largest U.S. cable firm would take control of 51 percent of NBC Universal with GE, which has the right of first refusal to pick up Vivendi’s stake if the French company exercises its annual option to sell, taking the rest. “The capital markets have definitely improved,” Immelt said. There is reason to see stability and some optimism for the future,” he said.

Set aside for a moment that the sickly advertising market that NBC already faces. The market for IPOs is picking up nicely right now, but is still in an early stage of recovery, making do with a ragtag bunch of real estate investment trusts and Chinese new-market plays. What effect do you think a big media play splashing into that pool would have on investor demand for new issues?

GM driving uphill with new ads

Once upon a time, when $1 million was big money, General Motors spent millions on an advertising campaign on three U.S. television networks featuring the sing-along slogan, “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.”

Powered by the link between Chevrolet and other American loves, GM’s share of U.S. auto sales was 35 percent in 1980. In 2009, GM’s share of the American auto market is a mere 19 percent, as it struggles with a backlash from an unpopular federal bailout and bankruptcy.

Chevrolet is hardly as American as apple pie anymore, but Chevrolet and GM will soon launch an aggressive marketing campaign to change deep-set perceptions of American consumers that GM cars and truck are inferior to imports like Toyota and Honda. The campaign, which will feature new company chairman Ed Whitacre and the slogan, “May the best car win,” will challenge notions of inferior products and will be waged on a myriad of television networks and print publications, but will also employ the Internet.

In a spin

Financial public relations firms, who elevated the honing of corporate messages to a highly profitable art form, are having to adapt their businesses and in some cases cut staff as the economic gloom intensifies.

With far fewer deals to publicize and lucrative “retainer” contracts under pressure, companies are cutting costs and are increasingly focusing on work thrown up by the crisis, such as capital-raising, restructuring and repairing tarnished images.”

So what exactly are they up to?

Some recent pr industry blogs and other web postings shine a light on some of the spinmeisters’ latest tactics.