George Burnett, VP-card & operator products for the telecommunications giant, spent much of 1996 as AT&T's VP-marketing communications and brand mangement. His current position, which he assumed last month, will keep him heavily involved in ad-related decisions. Steve Graham, national director of marketing communications, will help fill the opening created by Mr. Burnett's switch.
Both executives are in the enviable position of being able to grow or defend market share with a seemingly unlimited supply of cash.
STRATEGY OVER BUDGETS
But, says Mr. Burnett, "having a big budget is not what's important. Having a clear strategy and pursuing it relentlessly-that's what's important."
And keeping on top of a changing media spectrum is crucial, he says.
"We have diversified our media plan tremendously. We used to be very reliant on network TV alone," he says. The media plan now includes cable and syndicated TV, radio, print, the World Wide Web and, as of next year, outdoor.
"AT&T has a fairly strong presence in a broad range of media because we target a fairly large group," Mr. Graham says.
AT&T was also all over the Atlanta Olympics with media, licensing and a sponsorship of a pavilion in Centennial Park.
As AT&T begins to enter local phone services, the marketer may open the money taps a little wider. But Mr. Burnett points out that as the spending leader, "We don't really have to boost very much."
Nevertheless, the company will be going head-to-head with strong regional telcos that have been building brand equity since the initial breakup of Ma Bell, and AT&T can expect to take some shots in the process.
Mr. Burnett notes that while "The kind of vitriolic advertising that characterized this industry has really tailed off," there have been preemptive comparative strikes by regional phone companies, such as a humorously disparaging campaign from Ameritech.
And that, he says, is merely more "evidence of competitors who don't want to really compete. .*.*. The Baby Bells don't have a lot of experience in the competitive arena and we want to give them a taste of what real competition is all about."
IN THE THICK OF PHONE WARS
William Pate's mouth may not water at the prospect, but he's not afraid of a little pressure from AT&T-or any other telco. After all, the 36-year-old VP of advertising for BellSouth spent the last few years at MCI Communications, right in the thick of the phone wars.
He came to BellSouth earlier this year and he has spent all of "the first six months getting the brand established and ready for competition. We know that to win, we have to leverage the strength of that brand."
To do that, he has brought the various BellSouth entities under one marketing umbrella; plotted out the company's largest-ever ad campaign; and consolidated $185 million worth of media buying at just one shop: Western International. He has also attempted to capitalize on BellSouth's Olympics sponsorship, a first for a regional telephone company.
His efforts are focused squarely on telling existing customers "You've known us as a local phone company [but] we are a telecommunications giant."
That may take a lot of money but, Mr. Pate says, "We are going to spend what we have to .*.*. We are not going to let anyone come in here and buy share."
The idea is to "get [the national telcos] to turn their attention to another part of the country."
SPORTS PROPERTY INVESTMENTS
BellSouth has already invested heavily in sports properties that resonate with locals, such as regional college basketball, golf and Nascar. Next up, Mr. Pate says, is a campaign "leveraging the strength of celebrities from the Southeast," featuring the likes of Courteney Cox, Naomi Judd, Daisy Fuentes and Dixie Carter-all current or former customers.
While his MCI experience has been invaluable to prepare him for coming market battle, one thing he didn't bring along is the slash-and-burn, negative approach that company made its advertising trademark.
As far as he is concerned, BellSouth doesn't "need to sling mud because we are dealing from a position of strength."
Contributing: Debra Aho Will-iamson, Kim Cleland.