AD AGE SPECIAL REPORT: WOMEN TO WATCH: FORMER HIGHWAY SAFETY EXEC KEEPS MCI ON THE RIGHT ROAD: EXPANDING THE BRAND

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Gretchen gehrett started her career creating marketing plans for a highway safety company.

The 45-year-old executive director of advertising and marketing communications now controls an estimated $365 million in advertising for all MCI Communications Corp. brands, including Friends & Family, networkMCI, internetMCI and MCI One.

Since joining the telecommunications marketer in 1989, Ms. Gehrett has enjoyed five promotions in divisions such as customer retention, product development, international marketing and partner marketing at MCI, a cut-throat company infamous for its high employee churn rate.

In addition to the marketing of all MCI brands, Ms. Gehrett is also heavily involved in direct-response marketing as well as the company's Web site (http://www.mci.com).

With a proposed $20 billion acquisition by British Telecommunications likely to be finalized this year, MCI will have more dollars to fund efforts in establishing local phone service. MCI already markets local service to businesses in 17 markets across the country.

"We know that the local market-a $100 billion market-will be a very important part of our new thrust in '97," says Ms. Gehrett. "The MCI brand will come to represent local, Internet, paging, wireless and long distance."

Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, currently handles all of MCI's advertising. Although Ms. Gehrett says she has no plans to make any agency changes, she did admit she's often bombarded with phone calls from

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