SPRINT VENTURE SHOPPING $30 MIL ACCOUNT

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Sprint Telecommunications Venture has begun a quiet agency search on an account with billings starting at about $30 million this year and growing to $80 million to $100 million in 1997.

The review highlights the latest in a series of big-money marketing moves set into motion with the passage of the new telecommunications law.

Mercer Island Consulting, a strategic marketing consulting group in the Seattle area, confirmed that its client invited a dozen agencies to fill out a questionnaire for an opportunity to pitch the business.

Sprint Telecommunications was formed in July by an alliance between Sprint and three cable systems operators-Tele-Communications Inc., Comcast Corp. and Cox Communications.

Sprint consumer long-distance agency J. Walter Thompson USA, San Francisco, was given the business on a project basis last fall and has been invited into the pitch. Other agencies invited include Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners and Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor, both New York; and Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco.

"We originally had [Thompson] work on the ... venture because it was the most convenient," said Matt Jones, VP-marketing. "We'll base our decision on what's right for the venture, separate from its affiliation with Sprint Corp."

The venture is expected to carry the name Sprint Spectrum.

Several invited agencies declined to participate due to conflicts, including TBWA Chiat/Day, Los Angeles.

Questionnaires and credentials were due last Friday, with a short list of from two to five finalists to be notified in mid-March. A decision is expected in April.

Wireless Services Offered

The venture plans to offer wireless services to about 200 million people in 25 markets across the country by yearend. The partners-Sprint 40%, TCI 30% and Cox and Comcast each with 15%-have already contributed more than $2.1 billion to the venture; by the end of 1997, they will have invested more than $4 billion in building and marketing the wireless network.

Mega-marketing budgets and multibillion-dollar alliances are becoming the norm in the era of telecommunications deregulation.

In media spending alone, Advertising Age estimates the nation's telecommunications giants spent more than $1.85 billion in 1995, up 10.4% over 1994. Analysts estimate that number will more than triple in the years to come as telecommunications companies market bundled services, including long distance, local, paging, wireless, Internet access and cable TV.

AT&T Corp., which spent about $700 million in advertising last year, has already created seven regional units to spearhead its efforts in offering local service.

Through its recently announced alliance with direct broadcast satellite provider DirecTV, AT&T plans to market TV programming to its customers. FCB/Leber Katz Partners, New York, will spearhead that effort, said Dan Clark, AT&T's VP-domestic consumer communications services.

MCI Communications Corp. is creating a similar DBS offering with partner News Corp., although it won't be available for several years.

MCI Offers Local Service

Through its MCImetro subsidiary, MCI has also begun to offer local service in a handful of cities, including Boston, Baltimore, Chicago and Detroit.

MCI will use Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG to market the local service, and may tap agencies with ethnic or regional expertise on a project basis.

Mark Gleason contributed to this story.

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