EDITORIAL: BT ad budget must not blind networks

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.