More Changes at A-B, as a Top Marketer Leaves for AT&T

Mark Wright, Who Helped Negotiate Brewer's NFL Deal, to Become Telecom's VP-Media Services and Report to Esther Lee

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In more post-merger turnover, Anheuser-Bush's top media-buying and sports-marketing executive is heading for the exit, bolting the nation's biggest brewer for a top marketing job at telecom giant AT&T.

Mark Wright, A-B's VP for media, sports and entertainment, will depart on July 15, the brewer said in an internal memo. His departure leaves vacant one of the most powerful jobs in all of sports marketing and comes as A-B prepares to execute its new multimillion-dollar sponsorship deal with the NFL.

"Mark joined Anheuser-Busch in 1991 and has played an integral role in the success of the in-house media and sponsorship division," VP-Marketing Paul Chibe said in the memo. "We will be evaluating candidates to fill this role in leading one of the most-recognized media operations among all U.S. consumer product companies."

Mr. Wright will become AT&T's VP-media services, reporting to Esther Lee, AT&T's senior VP-brand marketing and advertising. He replaces Chris Schembri, who departed AT&T in September of last year, according to his LinkedIn page.

"We are thrilled that Mark is joining our marketing leadership team," Ms. Lee said in a statement to Ad Age . "His thought leadership and experience in driving a large-scale operation to deliver competitive advantage in the marketplace will be key assets for us."

AT&T is the nation's second-biggest advertiser, spending $2.99 billion in 2010, according to the Ad Age Data Center. Anheuser-Busch InBev, the global parent of A-B, ranks No. 22 , at $1.36 billion, with much of its spending funneled into sports programming.

Mr. Wright landed the VP job in 2009, where his duties included overseeing Busch Media Group, the company's in-house buying and planning arm. He was also instrumental in negotiating A-B's NFL sponsorship deal, an estimated $50 million-a-year pact which began on April 1 and made Bud Light the league's official beer, replacing MillerCoors' Coors Light. Mr. Wright was also point man on a joint media-buying venture with PepsiCo. The experiment has gotten mixed reviews, as the two giants seek to save money on media deals by combining scale.

Mr. Wright's exit is the latest departure from the St. Louis-based brewer in the wake of being absorbed in 2008 by Belgium-based InBev, creating Anheuser-Busch InBev. Under the new global leadership, the brewer has a reputation for watching every dollar spent -- which has created tensions among its employee ranks, according to some industry executives. A-B InBev is "slowly but surely getting rid of the old A-B culture" and "slowly dismantling everything that A-B believed in," said a former high-ranking A-B executive.

Although the NFL sponsorship is up and running, Mr. Wright is leaving just as the deal kicks into full gear as the football season nears (assuming the league settles its labor dispute with players). While industry executives said they don't expect major complications, they added that A-B might miss Mr. Wright's management skills as the sponsorship moves forward. "He has contacts in the network sales community that go back 15, 20 years. That's valuable," said the former A-B executive.

In an interview with beer trade publication Beer Marketer's Insights, A-B President Dave Peacock said the brewer will "maintain what we have" in sports marketing, adding that "we believe it's a competitive advantage." There is a "strong second tier of executives underneath [Mr. Wright]," Beer Marketer's reported, quoting Mr. Peacock, "although A-B hasn't yet decided whether to promote from within or look outside the [company] for Mark's replacement."

Other recent changes at A-B include the departures of Dennis Galati, VP-creative development, and Eduardo Pereda, senior director for multicultural marketing. Mr. Chibe, a former Wm. Wrigley Jr. executive, joined the brewer on June 1, replacing Keith Levy, who left in January. Mr. Peacock remains one of the few high-ranking holdovers from pre-merger A-B.

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Contributing: Rupal Parekh, Kunur Patel

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