Esther Lee is one of an entire generation of culturally super-savvy Asian Americans tapped to head up marketing for major U.S. corporations. Since June 2009 the Korean American has been overseeing the nation’s third largest corporate advertising budget — a staggering $3 billion a year — as AT&T’s chief brand marketer and media strategist.
The better part of AT&T’s business has shifted to its wireless phone services. But one of Lee’s most urgent and consequential long-term challenges is to turn the digital version of its venerable Yellow Pages franchise, yellowpages.com, into a true rival to local search giants Google, Yahoo, Yelp and Bing. To that end she is doubling the often-overlooked search platform’s ad budget to $50 mil. a year and is leading the search for a new agency to ignite some creative sizzle.
“As someone who believes in the power of brands to help drive shareholder value, I cannot think of a more exciting opportunity or a better time to lead this effort at AT&T,” Lee said upon being named to the post.
She brings some impressive credentials to the task. Before AT&T Lee was ad giant Euro RSCG’s North American CEO and President of Global Brands. She has experienced the entrepreneurial route as well, having co-owned in 1997 an agency with Greg Dinoto who now heads up the creative department at Deutsch, New York after serving five years as Coca-Cola’s chief creative officer.
Lee received a B.A. from Cornell University in 1981 and began her career as an internal operations consultant in management services for JP Morgan. Three years later she moved into the advertising business as an account executive for D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. It took her only two years to work her way up to Sr. VP – account director at JWT, then in 1995 to EVP and director of client services at Deutsch before founding DiNoto Lee in 1997. Lee currently works and lives in Dallas where AT&T is headquartered.