Nextel to expand base

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Nextel communications on Jan. 6 breaks a $125 million-plus marketing campaign in a bid to expand beyond its blue-collar base and reach mobile professionals who rely heavily on wireless communications services.

Nextel traditionally focused on trades people-construction, plumbing and electrical workers-who primarily have used its two-way radios. Now, it's counting on a wider media buy and new creative to attract white-collar workers who are giving their wireless business to AT&T Wireless, Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless.

Although those competitors offer similar individual services, Nextel executives say rivals don't market a single handset that combines the functions of a two-way radio, telephone, speakerphone, wireless Internet and e-mail. The campaign, therefore, initially will consist of four TV spots flagging those features as well as specific product functions. For the effort, Nextel will stay with its year-old tag, "How business gets done" and its "More ways than anyone to communicate with everyone" umbrella theme, but the latter will appear mostly in print.

Mullen, Wenham, Mass., handles TV, print and radio; Devon Direct Marketing, Philadelphia, is responsible for direct marketing. Interactive efforts are handled by multiple agencies, according to Nextel.

"You can always buy something cheaper than Nextel, but Nextel isn't selling price. Nextel is selling value. There is a difference between price and value," said Edward Boches, chief creative officer at Mullen.

The campaign will be the company's most prominent TV showing to date, with a heavy emphasis on network sports and business programs on cable. The buy also includes radio, national and local print, outdoor and Internet ads.

The effort will run during the National Football League playoffs and National Hockey League games, as well as on college basketball and Major League Baseball and golf broadcasts. Print begins in January editions of Business 2.0, Wired and Fast Company. The online effort includes superstitials, opt-in e-mail and banners that tie in closely with the company's TV ad buys.

"If we miss anybody with [business cable shows], we'll pick them up here [with sports]," said Jim Hartrich, senior VP-group account director at Mullen.

To differentiate itself in the hyper-competitive category, Nextel's campaign will focus on businesspeople who also want to use their handset for personal matters. "People today are really finding that their personal success is dependent on how well they stay in contact with multiple groups of people " friends, co-workers, vendors, family, clients," said Mr. Hartrich.

Mark Schweitzer, VP-marketing at Reston, Va.-based Nextel, said the campaign shows professional and personal uses for Nextel's i1000plus wireless handset. One spot humorously portrays the frustrations of trying to make a phone call from abroad. Another shows a harried exec in a taxi, late for a meeting and mired in traffic. He phones a colleague to say he'll be late, logs onto a Web site, orders a helicopter to pluck him from traffic and gets ferried to the meeting just as it's about to begin. He then uses the chopper to chase down an ice cream truck to get the dessert his child requested via e-mail.

Nextel will spend $125 million to $150 million this year on marketing, Mr. Hartrich said. In the first nine months of 2000, the company spent $78 million on measured media, considerably less than Verizon's $153 million, Sprint PCS's $134 million and AT&T Wireless' $381 million, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Mr. Schweitzer said competitors also were more visible because they targeted consumers on network TV, while Nextel concentrated on its business-to-business audience on cable business programs and ESPN.

Nextel is banking on the creative as well as the media buy to set it apart. "One of the elements that we tried to carry through is a certain irreverence and humor. We began as an unknown upstart and needed humor to help the creative breakthrough, and [we] hope that [these] things were not lost as we tried to expand," Mr. Schweitzer said. "What you don't see in these spots are warm and fuzzy. They don't have a symphony or a sunrise."

Copyright January 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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