ANALYSIS: Client Profile - Klein shows Cingular attention toemployee comms - In eight short months, Cingular Wireless entered anenormously crowded. cellular market to become one of the country's topplayers. Kimberly Krautter reports

Last October, when two major telephone companies - BellSouth and

SBC - first announced they were launching a cell phone business, their

joint venture, Cingular, had some major hurdles to overcome.

Besides the obvious difficulty of launching a new brand, many of

Cingular's staff had come from firms merged into BellSouth or SBC just a

year before.

Cingular's PR division made internal comms its top priority.

Heading PR for Cingular is Tim Klein, who was well known in Atlanta as a

BellSouth PR staffer for sixteen years. He was most recently senior

director of strategic communications. He is now Cingular's VP of PR, and

he told a recent PRSA conference about how Cingular executed and paid

for its employee communications plan.

"I know you're all going to cheer when you hear me say this," Klein told

the conference. "From our experience, take whatever you think is a

reasonable budget and add 25%. Now add 35% to get the results you want."

In the end, Cingular allocated $1-$2 million on events

related to the launch, around $2-$3 million on letters and

videos sent to employees' homes, and a further $500,000 on an

executive road show and webcasts.

Overcoming employee skepticism

To respond to fears about job security and benefits, CEO Stephen Carter

wrote an introductory letter to all 12,000 employees, including a brazen

commitment to answer all questions within two to three months of the


Also included was a video showing the press conference at which the name

had been unveiled. Klein says, "We had to prove that they were a part of

the process. That this wasn't being done in an ivory tower."

Employee focus groups and conferences solicited opinions on Cingular's

operating structure and ways the company could live out one of its key

marketing tag lines: that Cingular stands for "self expression." The ad

campaign featured such things as a cowboy singing opera and a large man

dancing around without any particular rhythm.

A second video developed from the "self expression" theme, titled Once

in a Lifetime, was sent directly to employee homes for a production and

distribution cost of around $750,000, according to Klein.

Bringing in outside help

Then there was the road tour. Ketchum PR of Atlanta was brought in as

agency of record to develop an executive road show aimed at addressing

employees who were to start during the first weeks of January, leading

up to the Super Bowl brand launch activities. The road show covered 43

city markets across the nation over 10 days, with seven teams of senior

executives dispatched to meet with employees.

Klein says the idea behind the road show was to give employees direct

access to the most senior executives (including CEO Carter) for live Q&A

sessions. "The idea was that we had to have frequent and interactive

communications," says Klein.

Ketchum was responsible for coordination and production of the road show

and scripting the executives for the presentation. Klein says the

attendees were not shy about asking tough questions and sharing rumors

about downsizing, benefits reductions, and other topics.

Ketchum account supervisor Kerrin Roberts says the agency had a few

short weeks to cull information from the employee focus groups and

interview subject-matter experts in the company to develop the

presentation and scripts for the executives. The biggest challenge was

preparing the executives for the live Q&A sessions.

Roberts explains that Ketchum made use of I-pagers (pocket e-mail

devices) to find the answers to difficult questions that the senior

executives weren't able to answer immediately.

Since the launch, Klein says the company has not lost stride in these

direct employee-communications tactics. Carter participates in a live

web chat with employees in different regions each month.

"This is not your typical leadership," says Klein. "They feel very

strongly that they want (self expression) to be embodied in the company,

and not just in the name."

The daring launch

The most daring attempt to articulate Cingular's mantra happened during

the launch, the week preceding the Super Bowl. Shortly after the road

show wrapped, Cingular linked several regional offices via satellite for

the launch event in Atlanta.

Ketchum conceived an idea called "the world's largest self expression,"

and asked the employees to submit quotes about themselves and


A huge composite image of the contributions was literally wrapped around

Cingular's high-rise head-quarters building.

Saturday Night Live alumnus Dana Carvey was also hired to host the

event, and pitch Cingular via a national SMT. Klein agrees that choosing

Carvey and allowing him to freely make fun of the company's CEO and name

might have earned him a pink slip in the past. "It takes a strong

management group to be willing to take on the "self expression" mantle,

and it does manifest itself in agreeing to have someone like Dana Carvey

(do the pitch)," says Klein.

The choice of Carvey paid off; the story was picked up by the major

networks, CNN, and dozens of regional television news stations. A third

video of the event was also mailed to each employee's home.

To date, employee focus groups are said to have provided extremely

positive feedback, but a fuller study will not be conducted until


In the meantime, Klein and his colleagues have other work to do.

Writer Mike Kanell of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Cingular's

home-town daily, and the most widely read publication in the Southeast)

has known Klein for several years, and says he has a lot of respect for

the company's top PR man. Ask him about the company's media relations

skills, however, and he says, "I think they could do a better job of

connecting with me."

Still, Kanell's take on Cingular's overall messaging is positive. "Over

time I've been persuaded that they have picked a pretty good marketing

route." Of the "self expression" brand positioning he says, "I think it

has grown on a lot of people. I'm not sure it's brilliant, but it's


However, new research on branding efforts have concluded that the Super

Bowl ads were confusingly obscure, at least from a customer


A new $75 million ad campaign launched last week focuses on the

basics: showing celebrities actually using phones.

Keeping self expression alive

Whether Cingular can maintain the fervor around the "self expression,"

concept remains to be seen. But one attempt to do so is a public affairs

campaign about wireless phone etiquette called "Be Sensible, Be Safe,"

also managed by Ketchum. The agency helped bring Cingular together with

the American Association of Museums to promote considerate use of cell

phones in public spaces.

Ketchum is also currently working on other alliances with theater

operators, as well as teen driving programs. "The idea of self

expression also should be linked with personal responsibility," says

Klein. "The most important thing you should be doing when operating a

vehicle is driving. We think these are important messages our industry

should promote."


Chief marketing officer: Virginia Vand

Vice president, PR: Tim Klein (reports to Vand)

Director, media relations: Clay Owen

Manager, media relations (trade media): Peter Nilsson

Senior manager, PR (investor relations, executive speaking): Tony Carter

Manager, media relations (general market media): Monica Mears

Agency: Ketchum, Atlanta

Launch budget: $5 million

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