Top marketing positions at telephone companies are being eagerly snapped up by leading consumer marketing executives eager to re-wire their careers.
"Telecommunications used to be a very boring field marketers shied away from, but now the biggest talents in marketing are being drawn to it because it offers the irresistible-money, power and excitement," said Jeff Kagan, president of the Atlanta-based consultancy Kagan Telecom Associates.
Fueling the trend is the high-octane brand marketing war between AT&T, MCI Communications and Sprint Corp., each of which is now seeking help from the best and brightest consumer brand marketers at ad agencies and package-goods companies. The Baby Bells and leading local telephone company GTE Corp. are also looking to consumer marketers as they develop new interactive media, high tech and global telecommunications services.
At the same time, downsizing and cost-cutting have dimmed career prospects of younger executives in many consumer package-goods and healthcare fields, while salaries in the booming $70 billion U.S. telecommunications business are sparkling.
A case in point is Heidi Diamond, 34, recently recruited from a London marketing post with Nickelodeon to become VP-marketing and sales for Chicago-based Ameritech's new video interactive services division.
Now in the thick of Ameritech's negotiations to package and produce interactive media programming through a consortium including Walt Disney Co., BellSouth Corp. and Southwestern Bell Corp., Ms. Diamond said her new job is "absolutely thrilling-there's no place I'd rather be right now."
Ameritech is drawing on her long experience in entertainment marketing and sales, and Ms. Diamond relies on the "technological wizardry" of company veterans as interactive offerings evolve.
"There's no blueprint for what we're doing, which is why it's so compelling and rewarding. I'm the cyberspace cowgirl, at a company that's willing to do things that have never been tried before," she said.
The lure of the information superhighway also drew Martin Nisenholtz, the former head of Ogilvy & Mather Direct's interactive group, to Ameritech last summer to oversee be content director of its Interactive Marketing Group. Weeks later, his O&M Direct colleague Meredith Flynn joined U S West's Multimedia Marketing group.
Ameritech has also hired a cadre of package-goods veterans to head its growing Small Business Services division, including President Mitch Wienick and VP-Marketing Tim Cawley. Mr. Wienick was senior group VP for Borden's Dairy Products Division. Mr. Cawley, 38, last year left his CEO post at toy marketer Revelle Monogram, Morton Grove, Ill.
"The toy industry isn't as much fun as it used to be, with all the consolidation. Here we have entertainment, new frontiers and all the entrepreneurial spirit I used to love about the toy industry," Mr. Cawley said.
MCI and Sprint have drawn their share of former consumer marketing executives, but AT&T in particular has become a magnet in the last year.
Daniel L. Clark, 43, joined AT&T late last year after 19 years with package-goods marketers including RJR Nabisco and Pepsi-Cola. In his role as VP-domestic consumer communications services, he oversees consumer long-distance marketing.
The last 10 months have been "the most exhilarating of my life," he said, forcing him to use every ounce of his head-to-head brand marketing savvy in AT&T's market share battles. "I've worked at a lot of large companies with a lot of marketing buttons to push, but I've never seen anything like the colossal scale of AT&T when it comes to marketing reach."
In July, AT&T lured Beth Bronner, also 43, from a post as president of the professional division of Revlon to share the same title as Mr. Clark, overseeing consumers who spend $10 or less monthly on long-distance. At AT&T, she draws on the "very personal, one-on-one" style of marketing utilized in the cosmetics industry.
Ms. Bronner is also a former president of Slim-Fast Foods Co.'s Frozen Dessert/Refrigerated Divisions, and held key marketing posts at Haagen-Dazs Co. and RJR Nabisco.
In June, Debra E. Isenberg joined AT&T as director of loyalty marketing, from exec VP-marketing at Shearson American Express. She oversees AT&T's "True" ad campaign. To her surprise, Ms. Isenberg found AT&T to be "less bureaucratic and much more exciting" than she expected.
Englewood, Colo.-based U S West made a point of hiring an outsider in 1991 when it chose consumer package-goods and retail veteran Jane Evans as VP-general manager of its Phoenix-based Home & Personal Services arm.
Last fall, U S West tapped Miller Brewing Co. promotions specialist Theresa Danforth, 35, to events and promotions manager for its cellular division.
"I didn't know a thing about technology and I'd never used a cellular telephone," she said. "But it turned out my skills in supermarket brand wars were a direct connection to cellular telephone competition in the consumer electronics retail channel."
Tammy Parker, Laura Loro and Alice Z. Cuneo contributed to this story.