If agency networks can shield their eyes from the dazzle of a
£150 million pan-European ad budget for a moment, they would do
well to take a cool and measured look at the tough task facing a
demerged and relaunched BT Wireless.
By the end of the year the group will probably have been cut loose in a
move that will not only ease the debt burden on its BT parent but force
it to consolidate its position in a European mobile telephony market
that is both highly competitive and beset with uncertainties.
On the plus side, BT Wireless has signalled its intention to go for it
by appointing two of the most senior executives from its Genie mobile
internet division to fill the top marketing positions. Will Harris,
Genie's director of global marketing, becomes BT Wireless'
vice-president of marketing, and Kent Thexton adds overall marketing
control of the company to the Genie presidency.
The promotions enable the pair to transfer their experiences with
Europe's most widely used WAP portal, working with brand-savvy consumers
who are among mobile technology's most eager users. And in Harris, BT
Wireless gains a highly experienced telecoms marketer who honed his
skills at WCRS with the launch of Orange and as the Genie board account
director at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, which must be favourite as lead
agency for the enlarged job.
The downside is the difficulty in reducing the clear blue water
distancing BT Wireless from major rivals such as Vodafone and Orange,
which is light years ahead in its establishment as a consumer brand.
In the UK, the performance of BT Wireless' BT Cellnet division, which
recently increased operating profit by 52 per cent, is a promising
Nevertheless, BT Cellnet has just been ousted by Vodafone as the UK's
second-largest mobile phone operator for the first time. Moreover, BT
Wireless continues to be dragged down by its German Viag Interkom
subsidiary, which recorded an operating loss of £95 million.
There are some who fear BT Wireless now lags so far behind Vodafone and
Orange that it will struggle to secure its future as an independent
company. A leading investor even says he'll be surprised if BT is still
independent a year after its float.
While BT Wireless' total adspend may be intoxicating, the problems
confronting it in establishing a credible brand identity call for sober
appraisal by the network that takes it on.