Emotional TV Spots Focus on Employees' Families

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NEW YORK ( -- Seeking to repair its scandal-tainted image, Qwest Communications today breaks a TV campaign focused on its employees' families. The emotionally-driven
Scenes from the "Generations" spot, which features multigenerational families of Qwest employees and heroic images of the company's history. "It's about doing the impossible for people you hardly know," says one employee in the ad.
campaign, consisting of three 60-second spots, represents the second installment of the company's "Spirit of Service" effort that was unfurled Sept. 30.

Under federal investigation
It is Qwest's first round of advertising since it dumped its old tagline, "Ride the light," earlier this year. The company is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice for alleged accounting errors that led it to restate $1 billion in earnings.

Commercials for the new campaign, created by Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, New York, will run through Jan. 6 on morning and prime-time network and cable TV programs including NBC's West Wing, holiday specials and family programming. One Spanish-language spot will target Hispanic media.

Spending on the media flight is estimated at $4 million. Qwest's Web site will feature the spots, plus longer vignettes on some of the 26 families who participated in the shoot and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the campaign.

The spots, which use the John Denver song "Follow Me" performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, feature employees along with family members of varying ages posed dramatically against rugged mountain scenery,

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archival footage and the Frank T. Merritt painting Spirit of Service.

Highlighting customer service
The painting shows Angus Macdonald, a New England Bell Telephone Co. toll patrolman, making his way from New York to Maine on snowshoes during the Great Blizzard of 1888 to ensure telephone lines were up. The use of the portrait is meant to highlight Qwest's commitment to customer service through its employees. Mr. Macdonald's daughter Eleanor is 96 and has told her story to a great-great-grand-niece for the company documentary.

The campaign is a "very powerful and quite emotional story about generations of Qwest families that have always considered it a privilege to serve our customers," said Joan Walker, Qwest's executive vice president of corporate marketing and communications.

Many of the families who participated in the shoot have worked at Qwest for four generations as operators, network engineers, customer service people, and cable splicers. Qwest cast the commercial by putting out a call to its employees more than month ago asking them to send their stories about their families working for company. From more than 1,000 responses, executives whittled the group down to more than 180 people for the three-day shoot.

Qwest was formed following is June 2000 merger with US West. US West was the parent of a regional bell operating company consisting of Northwestern Bell, Pacific Northwestern Bell and Mountain Bell. Currently, Qwest serves a 14-state territory providing consumer and business-to-business services. Qwest is hoping to gain approval from the Federal Communications Commission to provide consumer long-distance service in nine of its 14 states. FCC notification is expected around Dec. 27. Qwest hopes to gain approval for the remaining states next year.

Internal turmoil
The telecom is also grappling with its own internal turmoil. Former CEO Joe Nacchio was forced out late last year; a new management team headed by former Ameritech executive Richard Notebaert was installed in June.

Even as it endures double probes by federal law enforcment agencies, the company is also struggling to avoid defaulting on debt payments and defending itself against bondholders' suits. On July 29, Mr. Notebaert acknowledged $1.5 billion in accounting errors at Qwest. The company's market cap was more than $50 billion in early 2000, plummeting to just $3 billion today. A stock that traded at more than $60 a share hovers at $2 or less.

"[The campaign] is a very important early step in our brand journey," Ms. Walker said. "We really needed to re-establish ourselves with our customers and also with our employees. ... We could not turn this company around merely by financial restructuring. In order to grow the company, our 53,000-plus employees need to understand the strategy and be involved and execute it."

Ms. Walker maintains that despite Qwest's ongoing woes, employees and thousands of retirees "never stopped believing."

Ad spending could increase
Ms. Walker said that based on the company's plans to offer long-distance service, it could very well spend in the ballpark of $100 million on advertising and marketing.

"We have a very detailed plan of rolling out new products, services and new service initiatives to increase loyalty with a very robust model that is predictive of a significant return on investment," she added. "The financial model that we have is predictive of revenue."

The company spent $95 million in measured media in the U.S. in 2001 and $35 million from January to August of this year, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

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