Three agencies are vying for the business: the Los Angeles offices of M&C Saatchi and Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, and Interpublic Group of Cos.' Richards Group, Dallas. The incumbent was St. John & Partners, Jacksonville, Fla., which launched the service locally using neighborhood-specific newspaper ads and ads on dry-cleaning bags.
Spending on the account is expected to grow to about $25 million, according to an executive familiar with the situation.
Russel Wohlwerth, a partner in A-Team Advertising Advisors who is heading the search, declined to comment.
The Kirkland, Wash.-based Clearwire was founded by Craig McCaw, whose earlier company, McCaw Cellular, was purchased by AT&T and became the original AT&T Wireless. Mr. McCaw launched Clearwire in 2004 and this summer raised more than $1 billion in funding for his privately held company. Investors include Intel.
To date, Clearwire offers service in 34 markets, most of them small, ranging from Merced, Calif., to St. Cloud, Minn., and Greensboro, N.C. The largest cities served are Seattle and Honolulu. Company executives said that as of this fall, Clearwire had 162,000 subscribers. Earlier this month, however, Clearwire began to make a big splash into urban areas, putting on a light show in Seattle to announce its launch there.
Clearwire's technology platform is WiMax, which is similar to Wi-Fi but that Clearwire contends can be accessed in a wider area and is more secure. The company says the "plug-and-play" technology allows customers to access the web wirelessly anywhere within its service area. Wi-Fi is commonly found in "hot spots" such as cafes and areas of airport terminals to reach business travelers.
"We're running into a time where there is a variety of choices and companies," said Jeff Kagan, an independent telecom analyst. "This is not going to be a king of the hill or dominant player" situation, he added.