That sits well with AT&T, which is working to shift its image from a staid telecom provider to an innovative communications brand operating across multiple platforms. To rev up that process, AT&T last February picked Mr. Schembri as its new VP-media services, overseeing media planning and buying for the company's $3.2 billion account.
Mr. Schembri caught AT&T's attention for his pioneering use of out-of-home media, including video clips featuring eye-catching Discovery Channel documentary-film footage displayed in bus shelters and Bluetooth-enabled outdoor video ads. His zany widgets and miniature websites for Discovery Networks programs such as "Deadliest Catch" and "Meerkat Manor" spread fast across the internet.
Mr. Schembri also helped the telecommunications giant create ad messages surrounding the 2008 Summer Olympics.
"We did a multiplatform media buy with NBC Universal that extended our brand into Olympics coverage on all screens [TV, computer and mobile]," he says. "We had a soundtrack initiative where consumers could go online and download a song, pay a fee for that song, and the proceeds went to the U.S. Olympic Team. We also promoted this option on social-networking sites. ... We're tying ads together with music and games. It puts us into a new league as a brand."
Mr. Schembri, 38, says he's driven by an entrepreneurial spirit. "I always start with research to determine the goals and results we want," he says. "Then I bring creative teams into the process very early to collaborate on finding the best solutions."
As a teen, Mr. Schembri launched an employment agency, and in college he ran a promotional agency. He later worked in account management at Toronto retail shop Saffer Advertising. Before Discovery Networks recruited him, Mr. Schembri spent eight years at WPP Group's JWT in Detroit, rising from a regional planner to senior partner and media director, overseeing media buying and planning for Domino's Pizza and Ford Motor Co.
Wendy Clark, AT&T's outgoing senior VP-advertising, lauds Mr. Schembri for his deep understanding of traditional and digital media. According to Media Maven Lee Doyle, North American CEO of Mediaedge:cia, which handles AT&T's media account, "Chris [keeps] AT&T at the forefront of emerging communications and is committed to fully leveraging new opportunities such as addressable messaging in TV and geo-demographic targeting."
Mr. Schembri's obsession with new-media technologies means he's never satisfied with the latest thing. "I'm constantly looking ahead," he says. "I want to make sure we get the best ideas first."