PROFILE: Passion readies Denton for AMD's comms challenges

Morris Denton learned during his days at Cunningham that corporate credibility counts. He brings that experience and his entrepreneurial spirit to AMD's struggle against Intel.

Morris Denton learned during his days at Cunningham that corporate credibility counts. He brings that experience and his entrepreneurial spirit to AMD's struggle against Intel.

Morris Denton works for one of the largest computer-chip manufacturers, but he approaches his job like an upstart entrepreneur. That attitude is evident throughout his career, from the time he had his own business through a roller-coaster ride as head of Citigate Cunningham's Austin, TX office. The chance to lead corporate communications program under a new CEO drew Denton to Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), a scrappy underdog that holds on to about 16% market share, compared with Intel's 82%. He has grown the corporate communications unit from two to eight people, in addition to supervising other functions. Denton, unlike most PR people in the state capital, was born in Austin, although he spent most of his youth in Lubbock, TX and Aspen, CO. Denton gets a creative bent from his mother, an artist, and his entrepreneurial spirit from this father, an architectural engineer with his own business. An avid outdoorsman and amateur pilot, Denton says he was a lackluster student. He took time off to travel in Europe with a US soccer team, and stayed to play for a club outside Paris. After resuming his studies at Texas Christian University, from which he earned a bachelor's degree in PR and advertising in 1989, Denton became inspired by a class visit to utility company TXU. "What impressed me most was the apparent importance of communication as part of the organization's strategic objective," he says. Denton worked in internal communications for IBM's Boulder, CO facility after college. Although he was on IBM's payroll for less than two years, he continued working on various Big Blue accounts at Colorado's Leopard Communications and at Cunningham. In 1996, Cunningham asked for volunteers to pioneer an office in Austin. Agency leaders liked the city's central location and its well-educated labor pool. As such, they saw spin-off potential for companies like IBM that have research facilities there. "We were positioning it as Silicon Valley comes to Austin," says Denton. He and then-boss Don Bartholomew were Cunningham's first two Texas employees. Bartholomew moved on to Alexander Ogilvy, leaving Denton to run the office. At its peak in 2000, the outpost employed more than 80 people. "Our strategy was to have blue-chip clients serve as magnets for other accounts," Denton recalls. Motorola, Sprint, and i2 Technologies formed cornerstones, with the pro bono Lance Armstrong Foundation work bringing clout as well. The office made the most of the hi-tech bubble, but suffered badly when it burst. Today, it has shrunk to less than one-fourth of its former size. "Literally, we would get a call from a company on a Wednesday saying, 'We need a PR agency for a product launch on Monday. Can you help?'" Denton says. "It just wasn't sustainable. It's easy to say that now. At the time we thought, 'Hey, wow! It's the new economy.'" Denton was always a good "ombudsman" to his staff, says Deb Gabor, who took over Cunningham's Austin office when Denton left. "He really helped the agency through some difficult times. " At the low point, Gabor remembers Denton inviting the staff to his home and ordering pizza. Everyone sat around the fireplace and wrote down their grievances. "Then we read them randomly, threw them into his fireplace, and let them go up in flames," she recalls. When Incepta bought Cunningham in 2000, senior executives signed contracts as a part of buyout terms. But with staff size shrinking a year later, Denton and others took advantage of the agency's offer to buy out management contracts, so he enjoyed family time for six months. Another former Cunningham exec, John Volkmann, had landed at AMD as VP of strategic communications. He gave Denton the opportunity to come on board and create an executive and corporate communications program for new CEO Hector Ruiz. Although the company is based in Sunnyvale, CA, AMD's largest employee population is in Austin. Ruiz and Denton both live in Texas, though they spend time in California as well. In addition to running corporate communications, Denton supervises internal communications and product PR for the company's flash-memory and personal-connectivity-solutions divisions. He reports to corporate marketing VP Pat Moorhead, and his peer, Karen Prairie, serves as communications director for AMD's computational products group. While weathering a brutal microprocessor market and struggling against Intel, AMD has had its share of delayed product launches and unprofitable quarters. Denton works closely with the IR staff on financial announcements, and he says one of the company's goals is making sure guidance is as accurate as possible. About 70% of AMD's revenue comes from outside the US, making global communications another priority. Denton has broken the habit of bringing PowerPoint presentations on international trips. "That's really the wrong way to do it," says Denton, who believes listening is better than talking in many foreign markets. "What I need to do is go and say, 'Tell me about the issues that are affecting your region.'" AMD works with Cunningham and Public Strategies, and hired Waggener Edstrom to represent its microprocessor division last year. Founding partner Pam Edstrom describes Denton as smart, perceptive, honest, and direct. "He also has a huge passion for communications," she says. While AMD's David-and-Goliath fight calls for dynamic product PR, Denton believes corporate communications is key to the success of any company. "In the absence of corporate credibility, it really doesn't matter what your product strategy is," he says. ----- Morris Denton 2002 Joins Advanced Micro Devices as director of corporate PR and communications 1996 Helps start Cunningham's Austin, TX office; later becomes managing director 1995 Goes to work for Cunningham as an account manager in Silicon Valley 1994 Founds Jamison Morris Communications 1991 Joins marcomms consulting firm Leopard Communications in Boulder, CO 1990 Joins IBM in Boulder as a specialist focusing on internal comms

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