Cingular Wireless, the second largest wireless carrier in the U.S., was formed in October 2000 by combining the wireless divisions of BellSouth and SBC. On January 16, 2001, 11 separate brand names blended into one new brand – Cingular. A comprehensive launch plan emphasized “larger than life” events. The tactics chosen – building wraps, a celebrity-led unveiling and a coast-to-coast employee roadshow—were designed to support the simultaneous launch of a national ad campaign.
Description of Challenge/Opportunity
As a new company, Cingular needed to develop a PR program that would resonate among employees, customers, media and the general public. The PR team faced a formidable task – planning, creating and executing events and activities that would bring the brand to life and secure widespread media coverage about the launch, while educating and engaging Cingular’s 29,000 employees.
Leading up to the launch, Cingular’s senior management team and marketing department had worked for months to identify and create a brand for the company that would differentiate it in a crowded marketplace. Cingular would become the sixth national wireless carrier in an industry that had rapidly become a “blur” of commodity products and services. Cingular could not succeed if it attempted a “me, too” approach.
A competitive analysis revealed that other carriers focused on how humans use technology, rather than how technology can help humans. Cingular determined that it would set itself apart by focusing on enhancing self-expression. To test this theme with consumers, the company conducted “brand fitness study” (see Materials section). The result of this research and analysis was Cingular’s identity – a wireless company dedicated to self-expression and customer-friendly service. Cingular would offer simple, cost-effective communications tools (rate plans, phones, customer service, etc.) to enhance self-expression.
As a final check, an audit of key print, broadcast and trade reporters was conducted to test the company’s new identity in the media. Eighty percent of the media responded with positive and encouraging feedback thus supporting the findings from the consumer “brand fitness study.” Reporters were anxious to see how a company hinging its brand identity on the theme of self-expression would announce itself to the world.
As a new company with a new identity, Cingular needed to develop a public relations program that would resonate among employees, customers, media and the general public. A “fun” company dedicated to self-expression should practice what it preaches, especially at the launch of the brand.
A comprehensive launch plan emphasized the need for “larger than life” events to garner media and employee attention. The tactics chosen – building wraps, a celebrity-led unveiling and a coast-to-coast employee roadshow—were designed to support the simultaneous launch of a national ad campaign. The expansive nature of the event called for a sizable budget – $1.3 million in fees and out of pocket expenses.
The launch team’s overall goals were to bring attention to the Cingular corporate identity and “brand difference.” Specific objectives were: 1. Publicize Cingular, and explain the “marriage” of the 11 brands being brought together; 2. Bring attention to Cingular’s brand theme; 3. Garner widespread national, regional and local media coverage about the launch of the brand; 4. Inform, engage and excite employees.
The target audiences included: national broadcast and print media, both mainstream and trade; mainstream regional/local broadcast and print media, as well as online media; Cingular employees; and customers.
The launch team decided to create an eye- and media-catching demonstration of self-expression, in order to illustrate that Cingular stands behind its brand promise. The centerpieces were two enormous building wraps—measuring more than 12 stories and 28,000 square feet—to be unveiled on Cingular’s new corporate headquarters. The wraps – featuring the tagline, “What do you have to say?”—were a collage of photos and quotes submitted by Cingular employees that showcased their personal expressiveness. The launch team designed the collages, and used vendors to print, transport and erect the wraps on the building.
The team secured “expressive” actor and comedian Dana Carvey to co-host the event with Cingular CEO Stephen Carter. Carvey started launch day at 6 a.m. with a four-hour Satellite Media Tour (SMT), conducting 40 interviews. He followed with a comedic monologue on self-expression to kick off the launch event, joining Carter to unveil the building wraps.
The media outreach package consisted of press releases, SMT, video and audio news releases, a conference call and B-roll/wire photo distribution. Since only Atlanta-based employees could attend, video highlights were prepared and distributed to managers for viewing by all 29,000 employees.
Simultaneous with the launch event, the Cingular/Ketchum launch team also developed, scheduled and facilitated an employee roadshow, a multimedia presentation in each Cingular market. Eight two-person teams of executives, accompanied by a Ketchum associate, visited 48 markets in nine days, leading up to the launch. The purpose of the roadshow was to introduce to employees the executives who were running this new company and brand, and to give them an inside look at the brand, ad campaign, benefits and the Cingular vision. Also, the launch team created a special issue of the company newsletter, Cingular Voice, dedicated to the launch event, roadshow and related activities.
The formal launch of Cingular’s advertising campaign was during the 2001 Super Bowl, on January 28. Cingular was a major Super Bowl sponsor. Media covered the game – and pundits from coast to coast reviewed and critiqued the Super Bowl TV ads as well. The PR team saw this as another avenue for media to publicize Cingular’s name and brand, and press materials specific to the ad campaign were prepared, distributed and pitched in the days prior to the game.
The biggest challenge was time. Team leaders had five weeks to brainstorm, plan, assemble the team and create all elements of the launch program, including the large building wraps and the employee roadshow.
The wraps posed the biggest challenge, as the design was incumbent on submissions from employees. Also, the team faced logistical hurdles, including negotiating with building and government officials to approve and coordinate the safe and timely delivery, erection and unveiling of the wraps. The team also had to identify, negotiate with and secure the participation of Carvey in short order.
Similarly, for the roadshow, the team worked over the Christmas holiday to plan and handle all logistical details—scheduling dates for each city, securing venues and transportation, creating roadshow multimedia presentations, arranging audio-visual requirements and directing the presentation at each venue.
The key objectives of the program were to publicize the “new” Cingular name and “marriage” of brands, bring attention to the central “self expression” brand theme and inform/engage Cingular employees. Based on those criteria, the launch event was an unqualified success. A total of 175,259,497 media impressions were recorded, via print, radio and TV placement (see supporting materials for details). The coverage featured 141 print placements (i.e., Washington Post, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dallas Morning News and Wireless Week), 312 TV placements (i.e., CNBC, CNN, Fox News and local news in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia) and 743 radio placements (including 17 of the top 20 markets).
More than 100 employees attended the launch event, and company managers were provided with a subsequent video highlight tape that they shared with their employees. Over 14,000 employees attended the roadshows, and listened to and queried senior executives on a variety of topics. Survey results indicated that feedback from employees on the launch event, the roadshow (90% of attendees graded it favorably), the brand and the company has been consistently positive in the weeks and months following the launch.
Just three months after the launch, Cingular research indicated that brand awareness was 52% as a result of the integrated PR, advertising and marketing efforts. As a point of comparison, the Saturn brand took six months to achieve 40% brand awareness.
The successful launch of the Cingular Wireless brand set the pace and tone for a year that would witness the company’s emergence as a dominant national wireless carrier. Proof of this success can be seen in the company’s overall customer growth – Cingular’s added 1.3 million customers in 2001.