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Ever since she performed some hands-on marketing for a highway safety company, Gretchen Gehrett has loved the communications industry.

Rather than installing highway safety signs on New Jersey roads, Ms. Gehrett now controls an advertising budget estimated at more than $500 million in her new position as executive director of advertising for MCI Communications Corp.


Ms. Gehrett will manage the advertising for all MCI brands, including Friends & Family, networkMCI, internetMCI, MCIworld and MCI One-the company's latest brand which integrates services like paging, long distance, Internet access, e-mail, cellular and calling cards.

Having already spent seven years with MCI in nearly all aspects of marketing, such as customer retention, card marketing, product development, inter-national market-ing and partner marketing, Ms. Gehrett feels well-prepared for her new role. In her seven years with MCI-a company known for a high employee churn rate-she's enjoyed five promotions.

Prior to MCI, Ms. Gehrett worked in marketing at Chase Manhattan Bank for 10 years, where she was on a team that first developed electronic banking on the Internet in the early 1980s.

"My experience in different departments at MCI has made me focus on the smaller details of product marketing," Ms. Gehrett said. "But working in different areas has also showed me the bigger picture. To survive at MCI, you have to be both detail-oriented and a visionary at the same time."

Ms. Gehrett replaces William Pate, who is currently director of advertising at MCI competitor, BellSouth Corp.


While the long-distance market is estimated at $75 billion, the newly deregulated telecommunications industry is expected to create a hybrid industry worth upwards of $500 billion.

MCI hopes to generate $30 billion in revenue by the year 2000, 50% of which would ideally be generated from businesses and product packages the company doesn't currently offer.

"The challenge for me is to make sure our advertising plays a key role in helping MCI reach those objectives," said Ms. Gehrett, 45. "As far as ad spending is concerned, we'll continue to meet the demands of a very competitive marketplace. Deregulation has kicked the door wide open for MCI and we're seeing unparalleled opportunity for MCI to be a lot more than a telecommunications company."

Although MCI has a strategic partnership with agency Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, Ms. Gehrett says that "all new business opportunities require compa- nies to evaluate the options ahead of them."

While Ms. Geh-rett wouldn't comment on the likelihood of adding more agencies to the MCI roster, she did say the company's relationship with Messner Vetere "has been successful." And ad spokeswoman Whoopi Goldberg will definitely play a role in future MCI advertising, she said.

MCI expects to introduce new advertising for its MCI One brand next month, carrying the tagline "Life just got simpler."

"Customers are looking for conveniences and simplicity," Ms. Gehrett said. "People want advanced communications, not more complication. That's the challenge we'll face with our advertising messages."


Ms. Gehrett will also focus on co-branding opportunities with MCI partners-including News Corp. and Microsoft Corp.-for its entries into direct broadcast satellite and Internet software, respectively.

"The MCI brands need to work synergistically with each other and with our marketing partners," Ms. Gehrett said. "MCI will be right on top of whatever may be going on in this marketplace in the future."

Ms. Gehrett is particularly excited about introducing the MCI brand to the local phone markets. Although MCI has been offering local phone service for some time through its MCI Metro subsidiary, the company plans to have a presence in about 35 markets by yearend.

Some industry insiders speculate that because Messner Vetere doesn't have offices in most major markets, MCI may look to agencies that do.

Of all the jobs she's held, Ms. Gehrett believes her newest title will be the most challenging but also the most fun.

"MCI is moving on such a fast track in an even faster industry," she said.

"Advertising will become an even more critical part of MCI's success, which makes everything that much more exciting," she said.

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