FOCUS: TELECOMS PR - Ringing in the global changes/The formation of massive global telecoms giants last year and the abundance of new products and services on the market has created a wealth of marketing opportunities. Danny Rogers looks at those on the r

Few business sectors have been through the transformation that telecommunications has in the past decade.

Few business sectors have been through the transformation that

telecommunications has in the past decade.

For most people telecommunications used to mean telephones, but new

technology has blurred the distinction between telecoms and IT, while

steady world-wide deregulation is stimulating a fast-moving and highly

competitive global industry.

The emerging products and services are increasingly seen as business

enablers or lifestyle enhancers and this culture shift has led to an

explosion of new marketing and PR opportunities.

’Telecoms is the agency’s biggest focus area at the moment,’ says Tari

Hibbitt, managing director of Edelman’s business and technology

division, ’It is the fastest growing of all the technology areas.’

Katie King, associate director at Text 100 agrees: ’Telecoms is still

the fastest growing international business market and is now worth more

than USdollars 500 million (pounds 312 million) world wide.’

So where is the PR growth actually occurring?

’There’s been a renewed focus on the corporate affairs side,’ says Jean

Gomes managing director of DPA Corporate Communications. ’Telecoms

companies are huge money generators and they need to explain themselves

to investors.

BT faced a lot of criticism in the past over attempted mergers but it

has now pulled it off.’

The telecoms corporate landscape has changed dramatically this year.

Last autumn, after BT had unveiled its proposed merger with US company

MCI, global giant Cable and Wireless announced the merging of its

Mercury business, with three cable companies, into a huge UK telecoms

group called Cable and Wireless Communications.

Having been regularly outflanked by Mercury in the early days of

privatisation, BT now seems to have got its PR act in gear. Last

November, BT took home the Grand Prix at the Advertising Effectiveness

Awards for the ’It’s good to talk’ campaign. Shortly afterwards it

announced a commitment to a complete social and ethical audit - an

independent assessment of how it treats staff, customers and other

’stakeholder’ groups.

BT and its competitors also realise corporate PR must now be handled on

a global scale.

’1998 will bring full liberalisation in European telecoms. The jostling

for position ahead of that by European and non-European telecoms

companies is a hot political potato,’ says Tony Burgess-Webb executive

vice-president of Hill and Knowlton International.

Hill and Knowlton has handled the PR for BT’s Global Challenge yacht

sponsorship - a key initiative in establishing BT as a global brand.

However competitor Mercury’s corporate branding remains in doubt.

Mercury Communications suspended brand advertising in late October while

parent Cable Wireless decides on future direction.

’No major decisions have yet been taken,’ says a spokesperson for Cable

and Wireless, but she hints: ’Our chief executive Dick Brown has spoken

of the need to make customers more aware of the relations between Cable

and Wireless and our group companies.’

At a business-to-business PR level, DPA’s Gomes says the big change is

that business people are becoming more telecoms literate. ’For a long

time telecoms was technology driven. Now sectors such as insurance are

going through a metamorphosis with firms slashing costs by using

automated ’call centres’. As telecoms has recognised the need to talk

business benefits, PR has followed suit, avoiding jargon and unravelling

the communications process,’ he says.

Text 100’s King says technology PR has now become broad-based PR for

technology companies: ’It is a buyer’s market in telecoms and today’s

customer is far more astute. The key is to sit down with a client, find

out what differentiates their solution and develop creative means to

communicate it.’

King gives an example of Text 100’s work for BT Global Satellite

Services, which has involved photographing communications satellite

dishes in dramatically different environments around the world.

Edelman’s Hibbitt goes further and claims her agency’s whole approach to

telecoms marketing communications has evolved.

’Our business and technology division now works regularly with consumer

and public affairs divisions. We set up special teams for our clients,’

she says.

So is there any point in still having technology divisions? ’Yes,’ says

Hibbett, ’there’s still technology issues that have to be understood and

communicated by specialists.’

Sally Costerton, managing director of the Abacus agency sees the

telecoms sector as dividing into two areas: ’PR for mobile telecoms

suppliers in particular requires consumer expertise. Handsets are now

commodity products, the technology is becoming irrelevant and brands are

the big issue,’ she says.

’However on the commercial side, where multi-national companies are now

running business-critical applications through telephone lines, IT

experience is becoming more, rather than less, important.’

Costerton says Abacus is finding a lot of crossover between telecoms

clients and more general IT accounts: ’The business network is the guts

of most telecoms companies, and you need to have the right blend of IT

and corporate skills to advise clients effectively.’

She adds: ’As the corporate sands shift in the current wave of merger

and acquisitions fever, you also need to be nifty and flexible.’

Hibbitt agrees that the main PR challenge can now be in dealing with

client conflicts and partnerships. ’There are now so many joint ventures

that you really need to keep your eyes open. As friends and foes can

change quickly, agencies need to look at relationships with clients on a

long-term basis and, if there is conflict, deal with it issue by issue.

The key is partnership and clients need agencies that can work on a

global basis.’

EMC director Tanya Bunney, whose client Nynex is involved in the Cable

and Wireless merger strategy, says: ’You can work out a client PR

programme at the beginning of the year, then two months later find a

major acquisition has completely changed priorities. It can also lead to

a complete confusion of messages in the marketplace.’

So can a smaller independent such as EMC really hope to compete with

world-wide groups like Hill and Knowlton or Edelman in an increasingly

global telecoms market?

Bunney believes it can through increased network activity. ’Although EMC

is a UK company, we are part of a network called Euro-PR which works

across 17 countries. These deliberate alliances can work in our favour

as we work harder to keep our reputation with journalists,’ she


As for the future, Bunney believes the current corporate upheavals will

last for a couple of years but over five years there will be


She is already considering a new wave of business opportunities: ’As

multimedia becomes more prevalent we are looking at work for independent

service providers, particularly in vertical markets.’


In the summer of 1995, small British software company Telecommunications

Premium Services launched a new telecoms concept on to the UK market:

the TPS Personal Assistant.

The idea was to provide businessmen or individuals with a personal

telecoms number that covered all forms of communication: telephone,

facsimile or cellular phones.

The software offered the ability to automatically transfer calls to

their target depending on his or her scheduled location. In the case of

unavailability it could revert to voice mail and store faxes.

The ultimate aim of TPS was to sell the software to a telecoms provider

who would in turn provide it as an added value service to its


’The challenge was that there was no existing market and no consumer

product available,’ says Edelman account director Sue Rizello.

Rizello and her team embarked on a year long media relations-based

programme which concentrated on putting the technology into context by

creating situations where it would be of benefit.

The theme of the campaign was enabling the user to stay in control of

their communications rather than telecoms controlling them.

Edelman’s journalist trial programme focused on unusually close

relations with the reviewers, seeking regular feedback and providing


The agency produced by-lined features and supported these with cartoons

showing the cumbersome nature of a modern business cards that had to

show all potential contact numbers.

BBC World Service used the Personal Assistant as a feature item which

stimulated an excited response from the organiser of the Notting Hill

Carnival who was listening in. And European Business News created a

number of scenarios using the technology.

In the spring of 1996, TPS successfully licensed the software to Cellnet

who launched the service as Cellnet Personal Assistant.


In June Mercury Communications, Cable and Wireless’ UK subsidiary,

announced that it was to invest pounds 300 million in data services over

the next five years.

The company has professed an aim to grow its share of the data market

from five per cent to 25 per cent by the year 2000 and anticipates that

a significant part of its revenue will come from data services by the

turn of the century.

A PR-led initiative dubbed ’DataLink 2000’ was launched to change the

market’s perception of Mercury from a voice company, with some

specialist data skills, to ’a voice and data company, where data is a

fundamental part of its core business.’

Mercury implemented an integrated campaign through a team that comprised

its in-house PR resource, agency DPA Corporate Communications and

Marcomms specialist Revolution.

Since June, there has been a hectic schedule of new service launches

including Internet services for business and residential users in

October and ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode - the broad bandwidth

pinnacle of data services) in October.

Mercury has combined group press conferences with one-to-one briefings

and brought in senior personnel such as chief executive Peter

Howell-Davies and director of products and services Jim Reynolds to

explain the new applications simply.

’It has been the best PR effort that Mercury has implemented for some

time,’ says Sandra Richardson, Mercury’s trade and technical media

manager, ’We have already generated between four and five hundred

cuttings. The coverage has also featured the key messages, which include

the strong commitment to, and investment in, the technology and

positioning of Mercury as a leading edge player in datacoms.’

NBC Super Channel and London News Network have both carried features,

while the Financial Times has written about Mercury’s datacomms’

initiative on three occasions.

In terms of business leads, Richardson says each service launch has

generated hundreds of customer enquiries, although the actual number of

conversions will emerge further down the line due to the long-lead time

of such strategic corporate decisions.

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