Iridium sends new signal, splits with Ammirati

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Iridium is expected to begin an agency review after the satellite phone service company and Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York, mutually agreed to part ways.

When Ammirati won the branding assignment in October 1997, it was billed as a $50 million account. But as the agency launched a "Calling Planet Earth" global campaign in July 1998, the effort was estimated at $140 million.

But actual U.S. spending in measured media in 1998 was just $15 million, according to Competitive Media Reporting, and $3.3 million through April.

The split is said to reflect Iridium's evolving business strategy. It recently refocused its marketing plan in an effort to expand its target audience. The satellite service provider had been targeting general business consumers, but when its phone debuted, weighing 1 pound and costing $3,000, it was viewed as both unwieldy and expensive.

AIMING AT SPECIFIC USERS

Business customers will continue to be a key segment, but Iridium now will also target specific potential users, such as government, and disaster relief, oil and gas companies, a spokeswoman said.

"APL was excellent in developing a branding campaign, [but] we've refocused our marketing strategy and we're shifting our advertising focus," she said, adding that the review will come later.

Through the two-year relationship, both agency and client have had their own individual troubles. Iridium is having financial problems, as chief backer Motorola earlier this month said it would no longer finance the venture unless other partners pitched in.

Iridium also has had problems building a subscriber base. The company initially was aiming to sign up 500,000 subscribers by the end of March; by that deadline, Iridium had only 10,000.

Separately, Ammirati has experienced a slew of management departures, including that of Robert Quish, the worldwide account director on Iridium. Mr. Quish joined Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York, in June as president of that office.

If Iridium's spending had been as high as expected, the account would have been one of the larger ones at Ammirati's New York office.

Copyright July 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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