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AMSTERDAM -- Sprint Corp., the long-distance phone company that has captured a large share of U.S. Internet traffic with its digital fiber-optic network, has awarded its advertising account outside the U.S. to a young virtual ad agency specializing in international advertising called StrawberryFrog.

The Amsterdam-based agency will work on a global branding campaign alongside its guerrilla and interactive marketing agency, BlueberryFrog.

Sprint has $20 billion in annual revenues from more than 20 million business and residential customers. Sprint is going its own way in the world since regulators blocked its merger last year with WorldCom.

One month ago, Sprint announced plans to expand its advanced Internet backbone throughout Europe and Asia. The goal is to connect 15 cities in 13 major European and Asian countries on Sprint's global IP network by the end of 2001 and 35 cities in 19 countries by the end of 2003.

Last month, Len Lauer, president of Sprint's global business markets group, set the goal of providing a single point of contact for Sprint's multinational customers as well as cultivating new customers in strong European and Asian markets.

The Kansas City, Mo.-based telecom giant approached StrawberryFrog and several unnamed agencies. Founded in February 1999, it's thought that StrawberryFrog came to Sprint's attention by winning the launch account of Elle.com, the online version of the women's monthly, and by being shortlisted by the consultancy Cap Gemini Ernst & Young.

StrawberryFrog eschews local ad accounts and concentrates on winning multicountry accounts, such as the global branding account for Zurich-based financial services giant Credit Suisse Group. The lean agency employs a multicultural staff of around 30 people from 14 countries in Amsterdam. By using the Web, it can rope in 50 freelances from around the world to work on projects.

"The agency may be a new name, but we have some well-known people," said Creative Director Scott Goodson. Along with Mr. Goodson -- former executive creative director of J. Walter Thompson Co. in Canada, and once with Swedish hot shop Welinder -- other StrawberryFrog founders include Uli Weisendanger, the 'W' of TBWA Worldwide, Karin Drakenberg of Swedish agency Sexton87 and Brian Elliott, from Anderson & Lembke.

Publicis Groupe-owned Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco, and McCann Relationship Marketing, New York, have both recently worked on Sprint campaigns in the U.S.

Copyright March 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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