MCI REWORKS 10-321 ADS BECAUSE OF NEW FCC RULE: ACCESS CODES ARE BEING EXPANDED TO 7 DIGITS, AFFECTING 700 COMPANIES

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A Federal Communications Commission ruling has phone companies scrambling to change advertising and create educational marketing programs for services in- cluding MCI Communications Corp.'s 10-321.

Effective June 30, these marketers have been ordered to switch to a new seven-digit code 101-XXXX from 10-XXX.

MCI ADS BEING REVISED

MCI officials confirmed an upcoming shift to 10-10-321, though they refused other comment, citing competitive reasons.

Sources have said the company's agency, Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, is busy changing MCI's creative, including TV, radio and direct mail, from 10-321 to 10-10-321.

Agency partner Tom Messner said his shop was expecting the change, and had been preparing for it for the last several months.

MCI -- which markets 10-321 for subsidiary Telecom USA -- said it spends about half its ad budget on 10-321 and its other direct service product, 1-800-COLLECT.

The company spent $367 million in measured media in the first 10 months of 1997, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

Because of the marketing muscle behind MCI's 10-321, it is the most visible of these services, or dial-around codes. However, an estimated 700 companies, including Vartech's DimeLine Service and Excel Communications' Dial & Save service, also promote and use dial-around codes.

AT&T Corp. owns 10-288 (10-ATT), although the telecommunications giant put more marketing strength behind 1-800-CALL-ATT, an operator service that has a dial-around.

Companies with an existing 10-XXX code have first choice on the same code as a 10-10-XXX number, according to the FCC ruling.

WORSE FOR MCI?

"It's probably going to hurt MCI more than the little guys who rely on `cheap and cheerful' marketing tactics instead of a big-name branding effort," said Amanda McCarthy, analyst with consultancy Yankee Group. "However, MCI is smart enough at marketing, as [it has] proven in the past, to handle two more digits. But will it cost in extra promotions? Definitely."

The FCC ruling is designed to increase the number of possible dial-around codes from 999 to 9,999.

The ruling also includes a stipulation that local phone companies after June 30 attach a recording to any misdialed five number dial-arounds. Another battle is brewing as long distance and dial-around companies are disagreeing with local phone companies on exactly what the message should say.

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