First Mover: Mike Welch

AT&T's new ad chief on the promise of mobile advertising and the joy of telepresence


Age 43

New gig President, AT&T AdWorks

Old gig Vp of sales, Southwest region, AT&T Advertising Solutions

AdWorks, AT&T’s multichannel ad network, plays in three of the big media—TV, online and mobile—to help advertisers run integrated multichannel campaigns, something that more and more brands are looking to do. What’s your big focus going to be over the next six to 12 months?

It’s still very nascent, but we’re very focused on mobile. We’re working on a pretty cool new ad unit called Click-to-Fill. A consumer, if they opt in, with one click can populate a request for information with their AT&T billing data. So you can say, “Send me a coupon, send me more information, enter me into a drawing.” That’ll be a very simple way for people to engage with a mobile ad unit. We’re focused on innovation, and that’s an innovative ad unit we think will have some play in the market.

You took over as president of AT&T AdWorks when the group was folded into AT&T Home Solutions, which houses U-verse TV, broadband Internet and landline phone services. Did you have to address any concerns regarding the reorg?

I didn’t have to say much. Aligning within Home Solutions was the right thing for us because Home Solutions ultimately is focused on the end consumer, and that’s what advertising is ultimately all about. Our advertising products are all developed by the Home Solutions organization, so we aligned our advertising team with the product development organization.

Has that reorganization opened up AdWorks to new advertisers or expanded existing relationships?

Not really. The good alignment for us was the realignment of the business solutions group. Those are the folks that are calling on the CIOs or CTOs of these big companies that also advertise. So we’ve got a group within AT&T calling on the IT side of the house. We call on the marketing side of the house. We find a lot of opportunity between our two groups to exchange ideas and put together solutions that involve network infrastructure plus advertising.

Dish Network has made a lot of noise with its ad-skipping technology, Auto Hop. Have you guys benefitted from advertisers wanting to spend more money with U-verse as a result?

I’ve not seen a whole lot of impact one way or another there. We’re pretty focused on this audience concept. It’s not so much about who we’re competing with; it’s more about delivering those audiences. We’re sort of medium-agnostic, so we’re not worried about where somebody’s consuming media.

Your job requires you to deal with various device platforms. Which ones do you use most regularly?

I’m pretty much a tablet guy. I used to have binders everywhere and manila folders across my desk, [asking myself] “Where did I put that piece of paper?” I caught myself lugging all this stuff back and forth, but I thought, there’s an easier way. The tablet is probably what’s changing my life—helping my back, that’s for sure.

You’re based in Dallas, but AdWorks is in New York. How do you manage an organization remotely?

New York is where our customers are, so I’ll be in New York over half my time. But we have really embraced telepresence. It’s very easy to have a quick, one-hour meeting with people all over the world, stuff that would’ve taken all-day flights and thousands of expense dollars. Now it’s just like a conference call. It’s simple to fire up the telepresence, and it’s like you’re there.