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AT&T CEO John Stankey says he’s not satisfied with his own company’s brand


John Stankey, CEO of WarnerMedia poses as he arrives at the WarnerMedia Upfront event in New York, May 15, 2019.

Reuters John Stankey stated that he is unhappy about his company’s branding and intends to improve it in the future.| Reuters

AT&T CEO John Stankey said he’s unhappy with his company’s brand and plans to refresh the wireless carrier’s image in the coming years.

“Frankly, I’m not satisfied with where the AT&T brand stands right now,” Stankey said Tuesday during the virtual Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference. “I don’t think the brand will be well-positioned for the next ten years,” Stankey said.

Various iterations of AT&T brands have been around since the late 1800s, just years after the invention of the telephone. The company’s stodgy reputation as a landline telephone provider and reliable dividend payer to investors still exists, even as AT&T has morphed into a wireless carrier and owner of media assets, including WarnerMedia and DirecTV.

Stankey is in the process of merging WarnerMedia with Discovery and has already separated DirecTV into a standalone company as he attempts to focus on AT&T’s wireless business, which fell behind both Verizon and T-Mobile in terms of number of subscribers after T-Mobile and Sprint merged last year.

AT&T spent more than $160 billion, including debt, to acquire WarnerMedia and DirecTV. Stankey was the top lieutenant of Randall Stephenson, and helped to acquire both companies. AT&T shares have fallen about 25% in the last five years.

For the coming years, 5G broadband service will be AT&T’s main focus. Stankey indicated that his goal to revitalize the brand is more than advertising. However, he declined to give details on how the company intends jumpstart its image.

Stankey explained that while the company is well-known and respected, he felt it needed to move forward.

AT&T has had several branding failures in recent years. While HBO Max was being launched, two streaming services called HBO Go or HBO Now were still available. The result confused customers and drew after-the-fact criticism from WarnerMedia chief Jason Kilar, who admitted the sequence of events was a mistake in an interview with CNBC.

AT&T also changed the name of its DirecTV Now streaming service to AT&T TV Now, a separate product from AT&T TV, in 2019, only to eventually kill off AT&T TV Now and rename the entire suite of services DirecTV. Several former and current AT&T and DirecTV executives told CNBC they were critical of AT&T’s management of DirecTV, which for years outpaced rival satellite TV provider Dish Network in customers on the strength of its brand and witty TV commercials.