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Tough Calls: AT&T and the Hard Lessons Learned from the Telecom Wars Hardcover – November 26, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Former AT&T PR head Martin records his take on Ma Bell's descent from blue chip royalty, offering an insider's view of the corporation's struggle to reorient itself to a world in which its longtime cash cow—long-distance service—was becoming a profitless commodity. CEO Michael Armstrong's late '90s attempt to counter this trend by expanding into cable, wireless and business services forms the centerpiece of the book. Ultimately, AT&T ran out of time as the overly exuberant market collapsed and the company had to break itself up once more, this time in order to stay afloat. The journey was highlighted by mega-deals, leadership missteps, PR blunders and outright fraud. Martin also offers an eye-opening analysis of the impact of MCI WorldCom's fraudulent financial statements, which, he says, lowered AT&T's sales by $5 billion per year. Martin lightens the endless carnage with portraits of the telecom industry's top players, describing, for instance, how a new AT&T president was unable to tell the reporters at his first press conference the name of the long-distance company he uses at home. The result: "Run AT&T? He apparently couldn't even spell it. And so forth." There are lots of good PR and leadership lessons here. (Nov.)Forecast:Anyone sussing out AT&T's remaining potential—or hurt by the telecom bubble's demise—is a potential customer here.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Martin, head of AT&T's public relations during the tenure of CEO C. Michael Armstrong, describes Armstrong's leadership and that of his predecessor from 1996 to recently, when the company was acquired by Comcast. (Armstrong did not participate in the writing of this book.) The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was a death sentence for stand-alone, long-distance service, from which AT&T derived 80 percent of its revenues and 100 percent of its profits. Armstrong arrived in 1997, assuming one of the greatest challenges in American business, and designed the right plan for the company. He would have survived some mistakes but lacked the time to overcome years of fraud perpetrated by his main competitor, MCI Worldcom. While Martin focuses upon missteps, we also learn of Armstrong's successes, including wireless and data business acquisitions and developing a $4 billion outsourcing program in less than four years. Martin, a public relations veteran with 20/20 hindsight who conducted numerous interviews for this book, presents an important corporate story with lessons for those fighting today's battles. Mary Whaley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: AMACOM; 1st edition (November 26, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814472435
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814472439
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,291,728 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dick Martin is a business writer specializing in marketing and public relations. He has written articles for the Harvard Business Review,, the Conference Board Review, Leader to Leader, the Journal of Business Strategy, and the PR Encyclopedia. He is also a frequent speaker to business and student groups.

Martin was executive vice president of public relations, employee communications and brand management for AT&T from 1997 to 2003, capping a 32-year career with the company. He was also chairman of the AT&T Foundation.

The American Management Association published his book - Tough Calls - AT&T and Hard Lessons Learned in the Telecom Wars - in November of 2004. The book received favorable reviews in Fortune, The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Boston Globe. One reviewer said it was "perhaps the most honest insider's account ever committed to paper."

In 2007, the AMA published Martin's second book, Rebuilding Brand America - What We Must Do to Restore Our Reputation and Safeguard the Future of American Business Abroad. In its review, Publisher's Weekly said, "Martin's marketing expertise allows him to illuminate an issue of serious concern for political and business leaders."

Martin's third book for the AMA, Secrets of the Marketing Masters, was published in the spring of 2009.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Alberto Dominguez on December 30, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The back cover says that this book is "an up-front seat for the roller coaster ride" and a "look at how a great company tumbled" that will give us a "tour of AT&T's wild ride" and "chart the dissolution of an American icon." Not one of those comments is even remotely warranted.

I was expecting to find interesting insider discussions of important questions like:
* Did AT&T make any mistakes during the "trivestiture" in January 1996 (akin to giving away the wireless licenses to the RBOCs in the 1984 breakup)? Martin doesn't say, beyond talking about the PR fallout of the layoffs, which right off the bat were themselves only a side issue of the broader business strategy.
* Was pursuing cable the right strategy for Armstrong to implement? Probably, but Martin doesn't weigh in on this.
* Did AT&T overpay for MediaOne? Of course, but again Martin is silent.
* Did AT&T further compound its cable problem by putting poor executives (first Hindery and then Somers) in charge of broadband? Not a peep.
* How should AT&T have handled the $2 billion @Home acquisition? Silence.
* Were all these problems unavoidable due to AT&T's pre-1996 succession planning problems? The only aspect of this question that Martin bothers to discuss is the PR fiasco surrounding Walter's departure. As if that were the most important aspect. He strikes me as having an exaggerated sense of his importance to the organization.

AT&T was a corporate icon for 130 years and had 4 million stockholders. Surely there were "hard lessons learned" as the subtitle claims, lessons that are valuable in the broader context of the modern corporation. However, from reading this book you would get the impression that AT&T's only mistakes were in communications.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Loyd E. Eskildson HALL OF FAME on February 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Dick Martin had an excellent position inside AT&T with which to report on the "perfect storm" of technological change, intensifying competition, and government intervention (both by Congress and the courts). At the same time, the industry was melting away with the advent of cellular, its biggest competitor (MCI WorldCom) felt free to slash prices because it was making up its financial results as it went along (forcing AT&T to lose about $5 billion in revenues/year), and AT&T was seeming going in circles - diversifying (eg. into cable) - then returning to its roots, promoting new outside leadership (eg. Walters, from a printing firm) - then firing, opposing Baby Bell entry into its long-distance - then supporting (with conditions), etc.

Unfortunately, Martin does not provide a structured summary of these events - instead he remains mired in the details of P.R. actions and responses associated with them - a topic of little interest or importance.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Scribe on November 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Dick Martin pulls no punches in his review of AT&T and the PR efforts he led while head of the company's communications team. His insights come from his PR leadership during some of AT&T's most tumultuous times. The inner thinkings of CEOs, CFOs and more are on display as the company tackles increasing challenges in the marketplace. Martin appears most insightful when he shines the spotlight equally bright on the company's PR efforts he led -- what went right, what could have gone better, and what went wrong. A good read for those interested in corporate leadership and the communications that often accompany it.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By James T. Mahoney on November 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I have known Dick Martin for many years, but personally and not professionally. The topic of this book was of immediate interest for two reasons: I know many persons in the telecom industry who no longer have jobs; and I know many persons whose retirement funds and savings have been hurt as a result of their declining telecom shares.

I found this book to be honest, insightful, and of tremendous value to any organization seeking to accept to the whitewater environment of our society today. Dick minced no words about failures, erroneous judgment calls, or the strengths and weaknesses of the various leaders. He also gave perspective that filled in the blanks of the public perception of AT&T's moves and developments over the years. He connected the dots brilliantly to show the powerful impact that the criminal behavior of WorldCom had on AT&T. Due to WorldCom's crimes (publicly acknowledged) AT&T was forced to make decisions believing that the numbers reported by WorldCom were accurate when they were, in fact, fabrications. How sad for everyone.

The style is sparking and clear, which is not surprising since it is written by Dick. Read this book if you are interested in what has happened to the telecom industry or how to have your organization avoid some of the pitfalls that waylaid many of the dreams of AT&T. It is so refreshing to read a "no spin" book where honesty is transparent to all on every page.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By S. Jederlinic on November 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
"Tough Calls: AT&T and the Hard Lessons Learned from the Telecom Wars" is a no-holds-barred look behind the scenes at AT&T's executive offices as the company weathered the turbulent telecom marketplace over the last 20+ years. Martin's compelling writing covers the rise and fall of the company's top executives; the discussions and events that shaped the company's strategy; the things that worked and those that failed miserably. With remarkable candor, Martin assesses the company's strengths and, all too often, weaknesses, and applies that candor to his own performance as head of AT&T Public Relations. It's must reading for current and would-be PR practitioners, but also for anyone who wants a peak beneath the kimono of an American corporate icon.
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