Jennings orchestrates AT&T rebranding efforts

It's everywhere. Watch TV, read a magazine, or even wait for a bus, and you'll likely see the new AT&T logo.

It's everywhere. Watch TV, read a magazine, or even wait for a bus, and you'll likely see the new AT&T logo.

Karen Jennings, senior EVP of HR and communications at AT&T, is one of the people responsible for making sure the logo and rebranding campaign of one of the world's largest telecommunications providers becomes ubiquitous.

Jennings says the rebranding effort and logo need to be everywhere in order for AT&T to drive home its "Your World. Delivered" promise to customers.

"We must establish that we can give people what they need most in terms of communications and entertainment," Jennings says.

SBC Communications adopted AT&T's name after it bought the latter last year for $16.9 billion.

Selim Bingol, SVP of corporate communications at AT&T, says Jennings was a key part of the rebranding effort from the start.

"She worked with the ad agencies to lead the overall logo development, as well as heading up the media relations," he says.

Bingol also lauds Jennings for keeping the in-house communications team focused during the merger and campaign launch. "We've had acquisitions in the past, but this is the first time it was followed by a brand change and a major marketing push," Bingol adds.
"Everything was done in less than a year, but Karen kept everyone focused on the task. As pressure mounts, she's very good at easing tensions."

Pressure was the order of the day on November 21, 2005 - the day the new logo was unveiled. Jennings' day began at 7:30am at SBC's former headquarters in San Antonio, at what she describes as an enthusiastic kickoff meeting. The logo was displayed on the building while Jennings and other executives "mixed and mingled" with fellow employees.

When the ceremony ended at 10:30am, Jennings and her colleagues boarded planes and flew to Bedminster, NJ, the former home of legacy AT&T's headquarters, where a similar ceremony took place.

"It was a memorable day because [it all] came to fruition," Jennings says. "It was great to visit with our new family members and talk about their concerns and excitement for the future."

While her team did press briefings weeks before, Jennings says it dealt with hundreds of reporters that day.

The choice to go with lowercase letters, explains Jennings, was to appear more contemporary and approachable, which is consistent with her PR philosophy.

"It had to be modernized and freshened," Jennings notes. "We are at the cusp of the biggest changes in communications since going from the telegraph to the telephone. Both companies are more than 100 years old. We may be perceived as unapproachable and more traditional, [but] we're not that anymore."

The whole world will see the new AT&T as it sponsors the 2006 US Olympic Team in Turin, Italy. There, AT&T will showcase new technology that will allow Americans to communicate with team members via e-mail and IM.

Jennings' ascension in the communications ranks dates back to 2002. She was serving as SBC's senior EVP of HR at the time, when the company's head of PR left. She was asked to head both departments. Jennings believes the four years of running HR made the task less daunting.

"If I had to go right into managing both, it would've been very challenging," she says. "Not that it isn't challenging, but it was a welcome addition to my job. At that point, I thought it was coming to me as a holding pattern."

Four years later, she's pleased to still hold the dual role, which she likens to conducting an orchestra. "Certain times, like now, you must raise PR's volume," she says.

When asked if there's ever been any backlash for not being a born-and-bred PR person, Jennings says with a laugh: "If anyone's had a problem with me, they never said it to my face. My use of true experts and pros, and allowing them to do what they do best probably eased any concerns."

Karen Jennings

AT&T, senior EVP, HR and comms

SBC, various posts in HR until her current role (which she began in 2002)

Southwestern Bell in MO, president

SBC Asset Mgt., chairman; SBC Communications, AVP Chairman's Office

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