Telecoms: New Neighborhood

By Published on .

It's a beautiful day in the Neighborhood.

At least that's the feeling WorldCom's MCI Group wants to convey with an integrated-marketing campaign to support its service and operating unit, called the Neighborhood.

But the sun isn't always shining on the No. 2 long-distance provider. Shortly after teasing the agency world in late 2000 with a review for its estimated $70 million branded-consumer business-then at longtime agency Havas Advertising's Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer Euro RSCG, New York-it pulled the plug on the pitch. Shrinking volumes in the long-distance segment forced MCI to cut back resources and start developing broader services that would allow it to compete with regional Bell operating companies in local markets.

"The stock is getting hammered every day. They have to prove ... [they] can compete with the growing cable companies and the SBCs and Verizons of the world," said Jeffrey Kagan, an independent telecommunications analyst.

no blitz

To address that, MCI last week launched the Neighborhood-unlimited long-distance and local calling packages at a monthly price. But the company wanted neither a drawn-out agency review nor a mass-media blitz. Instead, MCI approached Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, New York-which impressed the marketer in the year-earlier pitch-to execute a direct and interactive campaign to bring the service to market. But Deutsch, accustomed to multichannel marketing, recommended a more holistic approach.

"Once they said they were forming a new [operating unit], and they described the new service, we said this is not just a direct and interactive assignment," said Val DiFebo, managing partner-director of client services at Deutsch.

The agency convinced MCI that establishing brand values required an integrated push, including TV, print, direct mail, interactive and telemarketing, based on the "freedom of speech" theme (see story at right).

"Deutsch really sold us on the power of a whole integrated campaign," said Joyce Dorris, group executive-consumer markets at MCI. "It was obvious to us that that was the way to really establish a dominant position in the market and leverage every single contact and every single medium."

Although Ms. Dorris would not disclose spending, she said adding mass-media elements increased the initial budget. "We know we're going to have to compete against some pretty big advertisers, like Verizon and SBC and Qwest, and we're going to do that," she said. Combined spending for MCI's branded and non-branded services (handled by Messner) is estimated at $100 million.

"[MCI] is recognizing that the wars and battles are won on marketing," Mr. Kagan said. "It's all about building a relationship with the customer-building the brand, building name recognition, finding new ways the customer wants to do business."

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