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Lesser quits GroupM to head new AT&T digital media giant

The world’s biggest advertisers are trying to take back control of their digital and programmatic ad spend and, in what may be the most significant move to date, US telecoms giant AT&T has lured WPP’s GroupM North America CEO Brian Lesser (below) to be CEO of a new advertising and analytics business.

AT&T, which spends about $4bn on advertising, is in the process of buying big traditional media owner Time Warner for $80bn. It moved its massive media account to Omnicom’s new Hearts & Science last year. GroupM CEO Kelly Clark will take over Lesser’s duties.

AT&T chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson says: “Brian is a terrific executive and one of the best there is in harnessing technology and data to create targeted advertising. Once we complete our acquisition of Time Warner Inc., we believe there is an opportunity to build an automated advertising platform that can do for premium video and TV advertising what the search and social media companies have done for digital advertising.”

Lesser (below) made his name building up GroupM’s programmatic business Xaxis, a highly profitable part of WPP. Advertisers in the US in particular have been scrutinising their digital ad spend since the publication of a report into media transparency last year by the Association of National advertisers (ANA). If there are, indeed, any buried bodies Lesser should know where they are.

But this move is on a bigger scale; part of an in-house media behemoth that may be able to challenge the likes of Facebook and Google.

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