U.S. Cellular Hands Creative to Publicis & Hal Riney

Starcom Wins Regional Carrier's Media Account

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SAN FRANCISCO (Adage.com) -- Regional cellphone carrier U.S. Cellular, outspent by major national carriers and facing an onslaught of competition from new cable company-provided wireless services, has moved it creative and media-buying duties for its estimated $100 million-plus advertising account to Publicis & Hal Riney and Publicis Groupe media sibling Starcom.
Despite spending less than top-tier wireless rivals, U.S. Cellular feels it can compete on other levels.
Despite spending less than top-tier wireless rivals, U.S. Cellular feels it can compete on other levels.

Alan D. Ferber, U.S. Cellular's VP-marketing, said Riney won the account following a review that included the incumbent, Doner. "Our challenge is to make our message relevant to the customer," said Mr. Ferber.

Doesn't spend like big guys
Although he indicated the carrier's ad budget will be increased, U.S. Cellular's spending is just a fraction of the $1 billion or more each of the top-tier carriers put into measured media each year; by comparison, U.S. Cellular spent $75 million in measured media in 2006.

"I'm not hung up on outspending somebody," Mr. Ferber said, adding that U.S. Cellular's business model centers on customer performance and its marketing messages will be a strong draw for consumers.

Jamie King, Riney's managing director, said that on a regional basis "the budget goes a long way." He said the major carriers are basing their selling strategies on network performance and price, both of which have become commoditized. "We can go against the pain point -- customer service," he said.

Operates in 26 states
U.S. Cellular, with 6 million customers -- making it about one-tenth the size of AT&T's mobility unit and Verizon Wireless -- operates in 150 markets in 26 states primarily in the Midwest, Northwest and New England and Mid-Atlantic states.

The win brings Riney back into the telecom category following the loss of the business-to-business portion of the $1.2 billion Sprint Nextel account. Riney also has withdrawn from the review for the estimated $35 million Amp'd Mobile account, reducing the list of finalist in that pitch to Omnicom Group's Cutwater, San Francisco, and independents 72andSunny, Los Angeles, and Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, Sausalito, Calif.
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