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Before mci Communications Corp.'s rollout of 10-321 last year, the average phone user knew nothing about dial-around services or kick-codes. Although the average user may still not know the terminology, thanks to MCI and actor/spokesman John Lithgow, they learned the code last year: 10-321.

Patty Proferes, VP-specialty brands at MCI, first launched 1-800-COLLECT, MCI's first direct-to-the consumer product supported by advertising and direct mail. After its success in the more limited collect-calling market, Ms. Proferes began looking for a product that would appeal to a wider audience but use the same direct sales channels.

"We saw a marketing opportunity starting to develop with these 10-XXX codes. Consumers were responding to them, although in a small way because the companies offering them were small," says Ms. Proferes. "MCI had the know-how to turn them into something much bigger. So instead of looking at them as a threat to our business, we looked at it as an opportunity."

Dial-around codes had been around for years, mostly promoted through direct-mail pieces that relied on consumers sampling the service. 10-10-321 is MCI's new name due to changes in Federal Communications Commission rules.

She says initial stages were scary because MCI was spending a lot of money upfront in developing advertising. "We used to have people call up customers and spend time with them. This is so different. To think, a 30-second ad could sell this," she says.

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