Web site central to satellite phone service's launch

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While the Nov. 1 launch of Iridium's satellite-based telecommunications service was hyped with a $140 million integrated advertising campaign, much of the sales and support efforts will be conducted on the Web.

In June, Washington-based Iridium launched a global campaign with the tagline "Calling planet Earth," developed by Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York, using TV, print, in-flight, outdoor, direct and online to promote the wireless telephone and paging network.


The effort, a collaboration of Ammirati offices worldwide with input from 18 additional agencies, debuted in 45 markets globally. In some markets, Iridium's logo was even projected with a laser beam onto clouds.

The high-profile campaign targets international business travelers who can afford the $3,000 phones, accessories and one telephone number to stay connected wherever they travel.

Online ads launched in October in the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition, MSNBC.com, CNN.com and other sites aimed at business travelers. Eventually, online ads will be able to track successful leads generated.

So far, Iridium, which declined to reveal Web spending, has spent about $3.5 billion on infrastructure, mainly for 66 low-earth-orbit satellites.


Now that the service is live and the front-end branding and awareness have been initiated through traditional media placements, Ammirati's interactive group, APL Digital, New York, is gearing up for a serious sales and support effort online.

"The Web site will be the proof of the promise," Brian Cauley, president of APL Digital, said of the Iridium site (www.iridium.com), which is expected to generate a large portion of sales leads given its tech-savvy customers. The service is being sold through roughly 250 distributors, such as Motorola Cellular Services and other resellers.


"The Internet has proven to be a superstar in terms of generating leads and providing a depth of information," said Mark Fithian, manager of digital communications for Iridium, noting that the Web site already brings in thousands of leads weekly. About 5,000 phones were shipped even before the service launched, although it's not clear how many of these sales came from Web leads.

A redesigned Iridium site was launched in June by APL Digital, which did not automatically get the Web business simply by being affiliated with Ammirati, Iridium's agency of record.

"While the general account was at the agency, we had to go down and pitch [for the interactive business]," said Steve Thibodeau, VP-management supervisor for APL Digital.


Iridium declined to say which other agencies took part in the interactive review.

"[APL Digital] had some advantage in that they could leverage the creative resources [of the general agency]," said Mr. Fithian. "They are excellent at the front-end integration."

Iridium is now talking to potential e-commerce partners and is expected to have transaction capabilities by the end of the year.

One key strategy of the site is to give Iridium's prospects a way to seek product information on a complex service that involves different pricing and telecommunications protocols by region.

"We need to make sure we can recommend a product simply so [customers] can carry the right product with them when they travel to different areas of the world," said Mr. Fithian. For example, the site's service selector, built by APL Digital, recommends specific equipment required if a customer is traveling to the U.K., where telecommunications protocol is based on GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), rather than the CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) predominant in the U.S.

The Iridium site launched in 12 languages, including 18 microsites, for locations around the world offering coverage maps, phone system requirements, pricing, taxes and other data.

Copyright November 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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