AT&T Wireless Unit CMO Marc LeFar Resigns

Move Comes Weeks Before Apple iPhone Launch

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A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- Marc LeFar, who shepherded the $1 billion-plus marketing budget of the former Cingular Wireless for the past four years, has resigned from AT&T, the wireless provider's new parent.
An AT&T spokesman said Mr. LeFar "wanted to do something else" and declined further comment. David Christopher, formerly VP-product management, has taken over as chief marketing officer for the brand, the spokesman said.

Mr. LeFar declined comment and referred calls to AT&T public relations.

Turmoil in telecom
Mr. LeFar's departure, just weeks before the launch of the highly anticipated Apple iPhone, which AT&T has a multiyear exclusive to offer through its mobile unit, underscores the turmoil in the telecom sector in which the top four players spends some $5 billion in marketing annually. In February, Mike Butler, CMO at T-Mobile, the No. 4 player in the category, left the carrier. Verizon Wireless has been shuffling its executives as John Stratton moved from CMO of the wireless company to a new post as head of marketing at Verizon Corp., the No. 2 telecom. No. 3 player, Sprint Nextel Corp., earlier this month hired Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, as the agency for its $1.2 billion account.

Since its acquisition of BellSouth and its takeover of the Cingular Wireless brand, AT&T, formerly SBC, has been working with SBC agencies GSD&M and with Rodgers Townsend, as well as BBDO, which handled Cingular advertising. Assignments had been rotated among the three Omnicom shops, but AT&T executives had hinted that a shakeup possibly was in the works. AT&T spent some $2 billion in marketing last year, including a major campaign announcing the "new AT&T." More recently, it has added major campaigns for the transformation of Cingular Wireless into AT&T Mobility.

Ad plans for iPhone
The AT&T spokesman said the iPhone "advertising plan is still being formulated. We and Apple are working all those details." Apple's agency, TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., however, handled the first iPhone spot, which appeared during the Academy Awards telecast and featured clips from classic movies.

During his tenure, Mr. LeFar, an Advertising Age power player and winner of a Marketing 50 award, led the Cingular brand through a merger with the original, tainted AT&T Wireless brand. Despite analyst predictions that Cingular's tenure as the nation's largest wireless carrier would be short-lived, he was successful in keeping the brand on a par with Verizon Wireless.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Mr. LeFar as the CMO of AT&T. He was the marketing chief for AT&T's wireless unit, formerly known as Cingular.
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