BASKING RIDGE, NJ—AT&T this week announced the restructuring of its public relations department, including the departure of its executive vice president of public relations, marketing and brand Connie Weaver and a reorganization that appears to subordinate the public relations function to marketing and human resources.
Weaver is leaving at the end of the year to pursue “another high-level marketing and communications opportunity,” as yet undisclosed, according to a memo to staff from AT&T chief executive Dave Dorman. She will continue to serve as president of the AT&T Foundation until her departure.
“I understand and fully support Connie’s interest in both expanding her personal horizons while doing what is right organizationally for AT&T,” said Dorman. “I wish her the very best in all of her future endeavors.”
Meanwhile, the employee communications group—led by Don Ferenci—at AT&T will no longer be part of public relations, reporting instead to human resources. Meanwhile, several other public relations executives—including Pat Stortz, who leads business public relations—will now report to chief marketing officer Kathleen Flaherty. The industry analyst and customer insights groups will also become part of the CMO organization, according to the memo.
John Polumbo will assume responsibility for corporate public relations and public policy support, brand management as well as consumer public relations, leading a diminished public relations group that includes Bill Oliver, responsible for public policy; Paul Kranhold, responsible for media relations and speechwriting; Bob Schauer and the public relations field team, including constituency relations; and John Vernagus, who is responsible for consumer PR.
Dorman explained that the restructuring followed the company’s decision to exit the consumer services business and praised Weaver for her role in managing a wide range of issues of constituencies. “One of the challenges was to develop an organizational structure for the department that will most effectively serve the communications and market needs of the new AT&T,” he said. “Connie and her team have placed key talent in functions that directly support our business strategy.”
But at least one former AT&T public relations executive sees the restructuring as the end of an era. “For the first time since Arthur Page assumed the post in 1927, AT&T will not have a PR professional at the decision making table and the company’s CEO will not have the benefit of PR counsel. Even when that counsel was not heeded, it at least ensured that multiple points of view on major decisions were discussed and considered. It’s a sad day in the history of AT&T and the profession. Page must be spinning in his grave.”
Page was one of the pioneers of corporate public relations—the Arthur W. Page Society lives on today, providing ethical and intellectual leadership to corporate PR professionals—and the senior public relations role at AT&T has been held in recent years by some of the most respected practitioners in the business, including Ed Block, Marilyn Laurie, and Richard Martin.