Telmex-Sprint to target Hispanics with long-distance service in U.S.

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MEXICO CITY -- The joint venture of Telefonos de Mexico (Telmex) and U.S. carrier Sprint will begin test marketing of its long-distance services in the U.S. in early 1998, targeting the Hispanic market.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has awarded Houston-based Telmex-Sprint a license to provide international telecom- munications services from within the U.S. to any point in the world, but the emphasis will be on Mexico, says Sprint Manager of corporate communications Robin Carlson.

Telmex-Sprint will target Mexican-Americans and Mexicans living in the U.S., says Ms. Carlson. "Depending on the (test-marketing) results, we will then roll-out services," she says. She declined to specify target areas except to comment "obviously where there are high populations."

The joint venture has already hired Mexican ad agency Alazraki y Asociados, the same agency that handles the Telmex account within Mexico. Agency President Carlos Alazraki says he expects the company to finalize its budget plans by the end of January, but that a preliminary campaign started in early December in Tucson, Arizona.

The ad campaign will be rolled out city- by-city in the states of Arizona, Texas, California and Illinois. "By May-June, we should be in all major markets," he says. The all-Spanish language ads will be in all media -- print, outdoor, television and radio The theme of the campaign is unifying Mexicans on both sides of the border. "This is a real tear-jerker campaign," Mr. Alazraki says. "The idea is `we know you better'".

Telmex, the former monopoly carrier in Mexico, had formed a technical alliance with Sprint several years ago. In February of this year, the two telecos formed Telmex- Sprint with an eye to the Hispanic market in the U.S. Sprint is the only major U.S. carrier that did not enter the Mexican market when long-distance services were opened to competition here on Jan. 1, 1997.

Ms. Carlson acknowledges that AT&T and MCI have both filed an additional letter of complaint regarding the joint venture's latest project though, with the license in hand, Telmex-Sprint has the legal go-ahead.

The rival carriers have objected to the new company based on what they claim are unfair market practices by Telmex in Mexico. AT&T and MCI own 49% of Alestra and Avantel, respectively - joint ventures with Mexican partners in long-distance service.

Copyright January 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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