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Cost-Cutting Leads Birch Back to Prairie Dog

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Budget cuts have led Birch Telecom to return to the boutique agency that created its mascot, this time to produce work on a project basis.

Prairie Dog Advertising in Kansas City, Mo., will create a campaign for the regional telecom's 14 largest markets, said Barry Dvoracek, Birch's director of marketing communications.

The agency created the company's dog mascot in 1999, shortly before Birch moved its account—then valued at $7-12 million—to crosstown shop Sullivan, Higdon & Sink.

The continued telecom slump and a need to cut costs and increase profitability led Birch to allow its contract with SHS to expire at the beginning of the year, Dvoracek said.

The company has not decided whether it will go beyond project work with Prairie Dog or any other agency, Dvoracek said.

"We cut back on our advertising [for 2002] and as a result, there was not a lot of advertising for any agency, including Sullivan Higdon & Sink," Dvoracek said. "We haven't decided what we need going forward."

Kansas City-based Birch has enlisted local company Ruth Burke & Associates to handle its media buying, Dvoracek said.

Birch spent $3 million on advertising last year and $4 million in 2000, according to CMR. The company had no recorded spending through March of this year.

SHS created the company's first television campaign, which depicted a Birch representative, a small-business owner and Birch's mascot dog hounding rival telecom executives about their treatment of small-business owners. The campaign's tagline, "Your business' best friend," was a nod to the mascot, which was created by Prairie Dog in 1999.

Prairie Dog's initial project for the telecommunications firm is outdoor boards set to appear this month.

Birch provides local and long-distance phone and Internet service to businesses and residents in 10 states including Georgia, Alabama, Missouri and Texas.