Two Telecoms Push IPG’s Buttons

DALLAS — Two IPG shops got hit with bad news last week as Alltel kicked off a review and Nextel hired a consultant to assess its advertising.

The Martin Agency in Richmond, Va., faces the challenge of defending its $70 million Alltel account, while Mullen in Wenham, Mass., is trying to maintain its grip on the $150-200 million Nextel account.

In both cases, growing dissatisfaction with strategy and creative, set against a backdrop of increased competition, prompted the clients to act, sources said.

Roth Associates in New York is conducting an evaluation of Nextel’s communications needs, said sources. The No. 5 wireless-communications company has become disenchanted with Mullen’s lighthearted year-old campaign featuring gruff NYPD Blue actor Dennis Franz and is seeking a “big idea, like [Bozell’s] ‘Can you hear me now?’ [for wireless leader Verizon]” that can take the company to the next level, one source said.

It was not clear at press time if the process would evolve into a review. Nextel and Mullen executives declined comment; Roth did not return calls.

Separately, Alltel has tapped the Rojek Cutcher Group of Cleveland to lead a search for its ad assignment. Rojek is expected to issue requests for proposals in two to three weeks, sources said. Martin has accepted an invitation to defend, an agency representative said.

Alltel is concentrating on creative and strategic issues, not media planning and buying. The scope of the Nextel assessment is undetermined.

Unconflicted shops with experience in the category that could pursue either account include Arnold, Boston; The Richards Group, Dallas; WestWayne, Atlanta; Martin/ Williams, Minneapolis; Fallon, DDB and Leo Burnett, all Chicago; and TBWA\Chiat\Day.

Martin last broke a national effort for Alltel in October 2001. A campaign called “Minutes” comprised a series of seven commercials that introduced a new tag, “Are you connected?,” a shift from “The power to simplify” used in earlier spots starring singer Faith Hill.

The “Minutes” spots, which are still running, center around the idea that Alltel can help consumers make the most of their minutes. The ads feature ordinary people using cell phones in the middle of their day.

Sources said Martin CEO John Adams told his staff that Alltel has issues with certain “elements of strategic work and process.”

Alltel’s net income rose 7 percent in the third quarter to $238 million. Nextel’s 2001 sales grew 35 percent to $7.7 billion, but the company also posted a loss of $2.6 billion.