The Player: Harris works double time to make name for Vonage

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One of the nation's leading telecom analysts sees the challenge facing Dean Harris, chief marketing officer for Internet telephone company Vonage, in pure Darwinian terms. "He's the classic small animal running ahead of a herd of dinosaurs," said Charles Golvin, a Forrester Research principal analyst. His advice for Mr. Harris: "Run fast"

Indeed, Mr. Harris is trying to do that just. Startup Vonage provides local and long distance service over the Internet. Known as VoIP for Voice over Internet Protocol, it is a technology which promises to revolutionize the way phone calls are made once it moves beyond the geek, early adopter crowd. Consumers with broadband Internet connections can sign up for the service by purchasing a $30 Motorola adapter at a number of retail outlets such as Circuit City.

In addition to the low cost of VoIP, Vonage offers free voice mail, caller ID, call waiting and call return and other features that typically carry added charges on landline phones. The service also allows consumers to have phone numbers in any area code, so their out-of-town friends don't have to make long distance calls to talk to them. For businessmen, it allows the ability to give the appearance of virtual offices anywhere.

While Vonage is enjoying a fairly open playing field at the moment, long time telephone giant AT&T this spring has started to offer VoIP service in a number of states. Others poised to gun for customers include Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Qwest.

"We've got to be smart about the way we do this," Mr. Harris said. "The challenge is to grow the business very quickly."

MLB sponsor

This month at the start of the baseball season, Mr. Harris launched Vonage's first major ad campaign, a national cable and radio effort with a strong price positioning emphasizing deals such as 500 minutes of local and long distance service at $14.99 a month. "Nobody can match our $14.99 plan," he said.

In the series of spots, a fictional head of a major phone company is portrayed as being close to a nervous breakdown. In each spot, a black-and-white shot of a tape recorder is on the screen while the executive discusses his problems, such as his wife now having to work in a car wash and his need for colitis medication. Spots are tagged "Your telephone company's worst nightmare." The campaign, with estimated spending of $20 million, is the first from Korey Kay & Partners, New York. It replaces an effort tagged "The broadband phone company."

Vonage also is a sponsor of five Major League Baseball teams, the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Marlins and Twins. The campaign's target is college-educated adults ages 25 to 54 with household incomes over $50,000 in urban and suburban neighborhoods with broadband access.

Mr. Harris, 54, comes from an advertising gene pool. Mr. Harris' grandfather founded Peck Advertising in the early 1920s. In the early days of TV, Peck Advertising developed the classic Timex watch "torture test," putting the watch on a propeller of the Queen Mary and inventing the tag line "It takes a licking and keeps on ticking." His father, Roy Harris, founded Advertising Distributors of America, a New York direct-mail and sampling-distribution company.

studying groups

At first, Mr. Harris, who holds a B.A. in sociology and anthropology from Carleton College, Northfield, Minn., didn't plan to enter the ad business. He researched India's Gurav tribe. But while studying for a masters degree in international affairs from Columbia University, Mr. Harris said he got "turned on by marketing," and took a second masters in business administration from Columbia Business School. His first jobs in marketing included classic package-goods training.

"The social-science background helps," Mr. Harris said. "When you do marketing, in effect, you're studying groups, which is essentially what you do in social science," he said. There's one major difference, however. When academics study tribes, they try not to invade or influence behaviors. Advertising, he noted, intends to do the opposite.


Name: Dean Harris

Age: 54

Title: Chief marketing officer, Vonage

Who: After package-goods training at Procter & Gamble Co. and Johnson & Johnson, he opened his own shop, then rode the dot-com boom as marketing director at two startups.

Performance: To get consumers to understand the notion of making calls over the Internet as automatically as they make calls on a landline or wireless phone, while at the same time building a world-class and enduring brand quickly before large phone companies and cable operators take over the marketplace.

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