Carrier partner AT&T readies for iPhone debut

SAN ANTONIO: In preparing for next week's debut of Apple's iPhone, AT&T, the exclusive US carrier partner for the device, initiated a PR plan back in February with a heavy focus on media outreach to business and financial publications.

SAN ANTONIO: In preparing for next week's debut of Apple's iPhone, AT&T, the exclusive US carrier partner for the device, initiated a PR plan back in February with a heavy focus on media outreach to business and financial publications.

The plan also includes blogger and analyst/influencer programs, competitor relations, and a crisis contingency should there be any glitches with iPhone service once it debuts June 29.

Tim Klein, VP of PR for AT&T Wireless, said the world's largest telecommunications provider has been working in "lock step" with Apple on the overall plan since February, a month after Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced the iPhone. Fleishman-Hillard has been assisting AT&T since the plan's inception.

Apple did not return requests for comment. Fleishman declined to comment about its role in the work, deferring all inquiries to AT&T.

The effort is headed up by Selim Bingol, SVP of corporate communications at AT&T. Klein said eight or nine corporate and agency people have been involved on a daily basis out of San Antonio, St. Louis, New York, and Atlanta. He's not sure what the final number of people working on the program will be by the time it's completed.

"We developed an overall strategy at that time with [Apple] and have continued to coordinate with it on its implementation," Klein said. While that strategy focuses on business and financial publications, Klein said it is not ignoring lifestyle and other categories. "At this stage, we've focused more on [electronic and print] business and financial outlets... because it's consistent with the strategy we have."

AT&T developed five "primary" messages to convey to the media, but Klein declined to elaborate on what they are.

Klein did, however, discuss the four parameters AT&T has set up to determine the campaign's current and future success. He said he wants to see a connection established between "iPhone and the availability at AT&T; that there's a positive reputation aspect that accrues to the new AT&T; that there is significant traffic [at AT&T retail locations]; and lastly, there is accurate representation of its availability, features, pricing, and other related information."

AT&T is also communicating with bloggers and online influencers, keeping tabs on what they are saying.

"We have a blogger and industry analyst/influencer program that we're... implementing," Klein said. "But we're obviously [also] reacting to the activity we're seeing in the news reported out of those sites and individuals."

Making sure the competition doesn't provide any erroneous information on the iPhone or AT&T's capabilities is also a priority. Klein said there is a 24/7 monitoring service set up specifically to address issues raised by the competition. That service is also "checking on our message impact and making sure our messages get through, as well."

In the event there are any issues with the iPhone after its debut, AT&T has set up a crisis hotline that is staffed from 6am to midnight and has people on call from midnight to 6am.
 
"We've got a crisis war room set up that dovetails in with the overall ops war room," Klein said. "If any issues develop, we have a system for identifying what those are and getting those into the war room. We have responses [planned for] some of the things that we consider to be the most probable situations that might develop. And we're ready and prepared to provide the information if those things should happen."

He said Apple has been very involved in the process and that the operation has run like a true partnership.

"We each discuss what our ideas are, consistent with the strategy," Klein explained.

He said that the only aspect of the launch process that surprised him was the level of interest in the iPhone.

"We planned for a pretty intense interest in the iPhone," Klein noted. "But the reality is that it has exceeded even our elevated expectations."

For some competitors' plans for the iPhone launch, visit TheCycle. prweekblogs.com.

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