AT&T Hires Kirk McDonald, Ad Tech Veteran, as New Ads CMO

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Kirk McDonald.
Kirk McDonald. Credit: Peter Foley/Bloomberg

AT&T has hired the ad tech veteran Kirk McDonald as chief marketing officer for its new still-unnamed advertising and data business. He previously worked at PubMatic and Time Inc.

McDonald will report to Brian Lesser, who left his job as CEO of GroupM North America over the summer to become CEO of the fledgling ad and analytics unit.

"As CMO, Kirk will be responsible for the creation and implementation of the marketing strategy for AT&T's advertising and analytics company," a company spokesman said in an e-mail statement.

AT&T is expanding, like many of its wireless rivals, into digital media, data and advertising. In 2015, it bought DirecTV, and last year bought Invade, a TV advertising technology company. AT&T is in the process of buying Time Warner, a deal that has run afoul of Department of Justice, which has demanded Time Warner sell CNN as part of the deal, according to some reports.

Its biggest rival Verizon has made similar, and more high-profile, acquisitions like AOL and Yahoo, and launched a mobile video platform called Go90.

The wireless industry, like so many others, is evolving to meet new challenges presented by internet giants Facebook and Google, which have flourished in the market for mobile attention. AT&T and Verizon control the pipes, but Facebook and Google command consumers' time online, and the ad market—they control more than 60 percent of an $80 billion digital ad market in the U.S., a according to eMarketer.

Oath, Verizon's combination of Yahoo and AOL, will do $3.6 billion in ads in 2017, while Facebook and Google combine for more than $60 billion.

McDonald and Lesser are no strangers to competing against the duopoly. Pubmatic has been a Google rival for years in the programmatic ad space.

AT&T will look to combine its data capabilities, what it knows about consumers and households on a deeply personal level, and apply it to ad targeting across its growing media footprint.

The attractiveness of AT&T advertising could be impacted by the decision on CNN, which adds media credibility and a wide digital footprint. Turner Digital, which includes CNN, has more than 130 million monthly visitors, according to comScore data from June, which put it in the top 10 in the U.S.

McDonald will be in charge of how AT&T presents its ad business to brands and marketers, and the new ad unit was built specifically in anticipation of the Time Warner merger.

"[We] will create a new, innovative advertising platform focused on transparency and brand-safe placement in premium content across screens," AT&T said in the announcement on Thursday.

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