Broadwing's future flight

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Broadwing Communications looks to disquieting actor Dennis Hopper and a futuristic ad campaign to convince business customers that its optical-fiber communications network provides better service than behemoths such as AT&T Corp., WorldCom and Sprint Corp.

In an estimated $20 million push breaking Feb. 1, the network, data and infrastructure provider targets chief technology and chief information officers at large and midsize companies.

The four-spot TV campaign from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston, uses dramatic lighting, tight shots and blurry images. The ads will run on network and cable sports and news programs through the end of April. Print executions will run through the end of the year in The Wall Street Journal and technology publications.

The campaign was designed to show that the 14-month-old company is as hip to technology as chief information officers envision themselves to be, said Pat Glavin, VP-marketing and advertising.

Most telecom companies' advertising is "all very cold and stark and in technology terms. A CIO, he thinks of it as a high art form. That's why he's in the business. He thinks it's a beautiful thing. It's just not been demonstrated in that way," Mr. Glavin said. "They think they're artists."

To wit, Broadwing's new tagline: "The world's first beautiful network."

The Austin, Texas-based company, formed at the end of 1999 in a merger of IXC Communications and Cincinnati Bell, also is seeking in its ads to assure customers its network won't lose data and that it is monitored around the clock.

"If you're [an airline] and the network goes down, [you] lose millions and millions of dollars a minute. That's what CIOs look for," he said, adding Broadwing provides better customer service and infrastructure than its competitors. "We have a ludicrous amount of bandwidth."

Maribel Dolinov, senior analyst at Forrester Research, said that while Broadwing has a good optical network, as a smaller provider it faces stiff challenges, partly because although it may have coverage across the U.S., it is not in every community where customers may need service.

"They're trying to establish themselves as somebody that has all the advantages of a larger provider but is more nimble," she said. "But if you're a large multinational company, are you going to call Broadwing? Probably you're going to ring up AT&T."

Broadwing spent $11.4 million on measured media in the first nine months of last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Officials would not disclose this year's ad budget, but it's expected to be in the $20 million range.

"Broadwing sees themselves as disrupting the industry and providing technology [that shakes up the status quo]," said Jean Manasian, executive VP-managing director at Hill Holliday.

That edgy image-and a stunning ability to deliver monologues-are partly why Mr. Hopper, the star of films including "Easy Rider," "Blue Velvet" and "Apocalypse Now," was tapped for the ads, she said. In the spots, Mr. Hopper rails against "dinosaurs" of the Internet and streaming video that looks like "footage from a `60s moonwalk."

Broadwing last week announced fourth quarter revenues had hit a record high, increasing 27% to $561 million. The company posted a per-share loss of 18 cents versus a loss of 50 cents a share for the same period in 1999. On Jan. 25, one day after the revenue announcement, Broadwing's stock price closed at $27.69, 31% off its yearly high but above its 52-week low of $19.06.

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