WilTel Puts Account in Review

DALLAS WilTel Communications, one of the nation’s largest fiber-optic network providers and a leading distributor of digital advertising, is searching for an ad agency to help expand its reach into business services, sources said.

Company representatives would not disclose the contenders, who were required to return proposals by Tuesday.

Incumbent agency Ackerman-McQueen, an independent that made a major push to boost WilTel’s (formerly Williams Communications) national recognition in the early 1990s, would not say whether it was defending the contract.

“I don’t think I’m going to comment on that,” said AM chairman Angus McQueen. “I think I’m just going to let the process play out.”

AM, now headquartered in Dallas, retains a strong presence in Oklahoma, with offices in Oklahoma City and WilTel’s hometown of Tulsa. Last year, AM lost another Oklahoma-based business, Six Flags, to Doner of Southfield, Mich., in a review.

Like numerous other telecoms devastated by the post-9/11 tech bust, Williams Communications filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2002. The company emerged as WilTel under the ownership of New York investment bank Leucadia National Corp. Leucadia is also considering buying a controlling interest in newly reorganized MCI, another formerly bankrupt network giant, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Although never a huge player in the ad market, WilTel’s media spend dropped off to nothing last year after it emerged from bankruptcy. This year, WilTel has spent only $500,000 on advertising, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

More representative was Williams’ ad spend in 2001 of $4.1 million, per TNS/CMR. The company was a pioneer in fiber optic networks, advertising on TV and in cartoons that appeared in The Wall Street Journal in 1991.

With its new ad shop, WilTel hopes to shift its identity from a wholesale network provider to an integrated business solutions company, sources said. Through its subsidiary Vyvx, the company provides live broadcast feeds and distribution of advertising from agencies and other sources to media outlets. The Vyvx network has carried the last 14 Super Bowls on its network.

Analyst Kate Gerwig of the firm Current Analysis said companies like WilTel may need advertising to re-establish their identities now that the dust from the tech shakeout is settling.

“A lot of the big wholesale companies never had to get their name out there because everyone knew them,” she said. “I think bringing in a new ad agency is a good idea.”

Among fiber providers, WilTel’s major competitors include AT&T, Broadwing, Level 3 and HTN. In ad distribution, major rivals are DG Systems, FastChannel, AGT, Point 360 and Pathfire.