Meet the CMOs: AT&T’s Lee oversees billions of dollars in ad spending across diverse businesses

Lori Lee, senior executive vice president and global marketing officer for AT&T.

Global Marketing Officer: Lori Lee

Bio: Lee is charged with leading AT&T’s brand strategy, advertising, corporate communications, events, executive operations and sponsorships. She was appointed to her current role in 2015 and also leads the carrier’s “It Can Wait” campaign, which raises awareness of the dangers of texting and driving. Last year, she added the significant responsibility of merger planning for AT&T’s tie-up with Time Warner, a deal that is expected to close by the end of the year. Lee has held several roles since joining AT&T in 1997, including serving as senior vice president of AT&T Home Solutions. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and an MBA from Washington University.

How much money does the company spend on advertising? AT&T consistently ranks among the top advertising spenders of all U.S. companies, and last year it spent $1.62 billion in advertising, according to Kantar Media estimates, down from $2 billion in 2015. The company’s total marketing spend came in at $3.9 billion in 2015, according to an Ad Age Datecenter estimate, second only to Procter & Gamble’s $4.3 billion.

What’s the company’s marketing message? AT&T’s businesses are both broad and deep: In addition to being the No. 2 wireless network operator in the U.S., AT&T also offers pay-TV services, wired internet access and a range of business services. Given the breadth and depth of AT&T’s footprint and offerings, then, it should come as no surprise that its advertising efforts are wide-ranging. Its “Stay With Me” campaign focuses on connecting first responders, for instance—which hints of the operator’s recent win of the FirstNet contract—while its big-budget digital campaign pushes its consumer-focused wireless offerings. More recently, AT&T hired Mark Wahlberg to plug its cross-platform entertainment offerings in a deal reportedly worth more than $10 million.

What’s the company’s advertising strategy? The carrier works to reach both consumers and businesses in targeted and personalized ways, on both local and national levels, according to a representative. AT&T uses analytics to target its campaigns as accurately as possible in an effort to maximize its return on ad investments. And AT&T is sure to hone that focus as it builds out its mobile advertising efforts to target customers through mobile gadgets and a variety of other devices and digital platforms at the optimal time and place.

Is the company’s advertising successful? Gauging AT&T’s recent advertising success is difficult in this dawning era of converging media, networks and platforms, and the company clearly faces major challenges. AT&T lost nearly 350,000 postpaid wireless phone customers in the first quarter of 2017, and its pay-TV offerings also struggled to gain traction in the first quarter. Whether AT&T can assemble all of the pieces of its disparate businesses in a compelling way—and whether it can convey that value to consumers—will play a major role in whether its ever-expanding empire can gain real traction in an increasingly competitive market.