AT&T shootout: Agencies seek Olympic gold

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AT&T Corp. has put its corporate image ads on the fast track, with new creative slated to break next month during Olympic telecasts.

The telecommunications giant held a competition among its roster agencies for the $50 million assignment, including FCB Worldwide, Jordan McGrath Case & Partners/Euro RSCG and Y&R Advertising, all New York.

Y&R, which is responsible for AT&T's corporate brand ads, is already working on proposed executions, said Jim Ferguson, Y&R's New York president. However, other agency executives said no shop has been formally tapped.

CUTTING EDGE

The move comes as the telecommunications giant tries to combat the perception that it is an old-fashioned telephone company and readies a new image as a cutting-edge provider of digital broadband services for businesses and consumers.

"This is a company on the verge of extinction and they've got to do something quick and big," said one person familiar with AT&T's inner workings. "There's a great flurry of activity," he said. "but I'm not sure when they're going to flip the switch."

The first signs of the new AT&T are slated to coincide with the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney Sept. 15 through Oct. 1. AT&T spent an estimated $50 million on its Olympic media buy.

The contest for the Olympic project is run by Richard Martin, exec VP-public relations and employee communications; the AT&T corporate communications executive is working closely with Chairman C. Michael Armstrong. One agency was said to have presented concepts featuring Mr. Armstrong in the creative.

An AT&T spokesman declined to comment on any of the review proceedings or the time frame. A Y&R spokesman declined comment and referred calls to AT&T. Jordan McGrath denied being in any reviews. FCB executives could be not be reached for comment.

Although the ads will break during the Games, they won't necessarily be Olympic-themed, according to executives close to the situation.

INTEGRATED CAMPAIGN

Meanwhile, Y&R and FCB are at work on an integrated marketing pitch for AT&T's Business Services arm, its largest operating unit.

Bill O'Brien, marketing VP-Business Services Division, charged FCB, Y&R and Schifino Lee, Tampa, Fla., with delivering a comprehensive effort that will tout the division's Internet and data services for businesses. The project, which Mr. O'Brien pegged at less than $100 million, will build on this summer's "Net.working" print campaign from Schifino. The $10 million print campaign, which runs through the end of September, is designed to establish the division as a partner in its customers' success.

"We want to set up a dialogue with clients," said Mr. O'Brien. "The kind of business clients we work with are very sophisticated people. We want to talk with them, not at them."

The Business Services advertising and the image effort coordinated by Mr. Martin will be "very well-linked . . . complementary," Mr. O'Brien said.

An agency insider confirmed, as well, that the two projects "could end up converging."

The agency executive said AT&T is well on its way to repositioning for the digital age. Its highly successful wireless unit will be a linchpin in both efforts, as will AT&T's cable, Internet and voice assets. The company is likely to dial up these core services in advertising and to develop cross-selling platforms.M

Contributing: Hillary Chura, Ira Teinowitz

Copyright August 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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