Southwestern Bell Launches Marketing Effort for Long Distance

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SBC Communications launched a marketing campaign in Texas yesterday to promote its new Southwestern Bell long-distance telephone service.


The campaign kicked off with mass media and telemarketing. A 2.1 million-piece direct mail effort is scheduled to launch the week of July 31.


SBC, San Antonio, is the parent company of Southwestern Bell, which became the second local phone company to gain the right to offer long-distance telephone service in its local market when the Federal Communications Commission approved the move on June 30. The FCC cleared Bell Atlantic to offer long-distance service in its local calling area earlier this year.


Southwestern Bell's flagship product is a pricing plan called the No-Nonsense Flat Rate, which offers a rate of 9 cents per minute for all domestic calls originating in Texas with no monthly fees. The company began promoting the product yesterday with mass media, including TV, print and radio. It will promote its other pricing plans -- which include flat rates for calling certain numbers and lower rates within certain blocks of time -- through direct mail.


"We're going to use the direct marketing component to talk about all of our individual plans," said Ada Johnson, director of market management at SBC.


About 1.5 million direct mail pieces will be in English, while most of the remaining 600,000 pieces will be in Spanish. Southwestern Bell also will mail pieces in Chinese and Vietnamese.


A small number of direct mail pieces will be in the format of business letters. The company declined to provide samples of the direct mail prior to the drop.


Johnson said the company would test different creative formats for some of the direct mail offers. The mail pieces promoting the flagship 9-cents-per-minute plan will receive several creative treatments. The company also will test different formats for its international calling plan.


Two formats will be tested for the Spanish-language direct mail, while the other pricing plans and the Chinese and Vietnamese pieces will each have a single creative design.


The company is working with ad agency Rapp Collins on the campaign's targeted components.


Southwestern Bell purchased most of the lists for the direct mail and telemarketing components of the campaign from outside sources, but the company also has a database of more than 20,000 prospects who contacted the company expressing interest in obtaining long-distance telephone service from their local carrier.


The company started placing outbound telemarketing calls to those customers yesterday. At the same time, it began making cold outbound calls to prospects. Another telemarketing effort will launch in August as a follow-up to the direct mail campaign. About a third of the people who receive direct mail will be targeted for follow-up telemarketing calls.


Bill statement inserts promoting the No-Nonsense pricing plan to current customers of Southwestern's local phone service also will be circulated in August. Johnson said the company might follow up with postcard mailings later in the year.


The campaign's Internet marketing component also launched yesterday with banner advertising on several sites. Customers will be able to sign up for Southwestern Bell long-distance service at Southwestern's Web site, www.swbell.com, and the company has special offers available to people who sign up online through Aug. 31.


In addition to promoting the convenience of one-stop shopping for both local and long-distance service, Johnson said the campaign also is designed to illustrate the simplicity of a one-price calling plan and to take advantage of the company's brand awareness as a local carrier.
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