Sprint's Top Digital Marketer Decamps to Mobile Ad Firm xAd

The Departure Comes as the Carrier Revamps Its Agency Lineup and Ad Campaigns

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Scott Zalaznik, a 15-year veteran of Sprint, who spent the last two years running digital marketing, has left the carrier for the mobile ad-tech firm xAd.

His exit occurs amid an overhaul at the telecom, which is juggling a massive network upgrade as it competes with Verizon, AT&T and ascendant rival T-Mobile. In August, Sprint replaced its CEO, nixed its ad campaign, and introduced an aggressive new pricing plan. Last week, the carrier, which employs 33,000 nationwide, announced it would be cutting an unspecified number of jobs to trim costs.

Sprint has replaced Mr. Zalaznik with Evan Conway, the VP-monetization and strategy at Pinsight Media, the mobile-ad service Sprint owns.

Scott Zalaznik, head of global retail, xAd
Scott Zalaznik, head of global retail, xAd

Despite the upheaval at Sprint, Mr. Zalaznik claims his departure was not prompted by the corporate shifts. Instead, he described it as the endcap of a broader search for a new position in digital marketing. In particular, he noted he was looking for solutions to the hurdles of attribution and targeting in mobile marketing.

He found it in xAd, a five-year-old company that sells marketers location data for mobile-ad serving.

"We always struggled with our mobile mix," Mr. Zalaznik said of his time at the carrier. "This is the biggest game-changer for mobile to meet the expectations that we always had."

In 2011, Mr. Zalaznik took control of e-commerce for the carrier. He added online channels and became VP-digital the following year.

Last year, he joined the advisory board of xAd, following an introduction from Softbank, an xAd investor and Sprint's majority owner. Softbank Capital, the Japanese firm's investment arm, helped close a $50 million investment in xAd in September, the fourth and largest venture funding round for the ad-tech company. "Because we have enough self-generated profit to fuel our expansion and product leadership, we have no immediate plans to use it," Dipanshu Sharma, xAd's CEO, wrote in an email.

Location specialists like xAd face stiff threats from larger companies. Verizon is ramping up its location-based ad product for marketers; yesterday, Facebook introduced a new targeting offering called "local awareness ads."

At xAd, Mr. Zalaznik will be the head of global retail, a new position overseeing sales in six different countries. The company works with over 300 brands, including Home Depot, Outback Steakhouse and Pinkberry.

The move also highlights the growing influence of Softbank on the U.S. technology field. It funds multiple ad-tech and mobile companies. In July, Softbank tapped Google's business head -- and former T-Mobile CMO -- Nikesh Arora to lead its global expansion.

Softbank's enigmatic CEO, Masayoshi Son, also handpicked Marcelo Claure, Sprint's new chief executive. Mr. Zalaznik said Mr. Claure's appointment gave him pause about leaving Sprint, a process he began nearly a year ago. "I'm as bullish on Sprint as I've ever been," Mr. Zalaznik said.

Sprint increased its U.S. advertising spending by 11.1% in 2013 -- reaching $1.56 billion, according to the Ad Age DataCenter -- and Mr. Son has voiced a willingness to spend heavily to outpace competitors. In September, the carrier launched an agency review, which it is expected to finalize in the coming weeks.