Power Players 2009

AT&T's Catherine Coughlin Is Ad Age's No. 4 Power Player

A Spotty Network and Possible Loss of iPhone Exclusivity Loom as Challenges

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THE POWER: With roughly 80% of AT&T's marketing budget allotted to wireless and CEO Randall Stephenson calling wireless the "priority of this business," it's a sure bet that Catherine Coughlin, 52, will increasingly focus on wresting market share away from competitors in the deeply saturated wireless market. The iPhone has been AT&T's most powerful brand booster, though it's Apple that controls the handset's marketing.

THE NUMBERS: Thanks to the iPhone, AT&T has kept Verizon within sight, just trailing the No. 1 carrier by three percentage points with a 29% share. In the third quarter, AT&T signed up 3.2 million iPhone customers, with 40% of those activations new customers; subscriber attrition was a record low 1.43%. AT&T spent $1.9 billion on measured media in 2008. First-half 2009 measured spending was up 7% to $978 million.

THE KEY LIEUTENANTS: Ms. Coughlin's direct reports include Esther Lee, senior VP-brand marketing and advertising, and Larry Solomon, senior VP-corporate communications. Ms. Coughlin and Ms. Lee collaborate with David Christopher, chief marketing officer, AT&T mobility and consumer markets, who reports to Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO-AT&T mobility and consumer markets.

THE CHALLENGE: While the iPhone has fuelled revenue and subscriber growth, the popular smartphone has also brought headaches to the operator. Its reputation has taken hits from the spotty network coverage that happens when rampant iPhone usage strains infrastructure. If, as widely speculated, Apple looks to expand iPhone's market share, it could end AT&T's exclusivity, which ends next year, leaving the carrier without a strong flagship phone.

AT&T's own messaging has lacked a consistent focus, it's sought to cover all the bases by promoting rollover minutes, "More bars. More places," and "Your world. Delivered."

THE AGENCIES: WPP's MediaEdge:cia handles media, while Omnicom's BBDO looks after the creative for AT&T's consumer business.

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