. The Transom .

Thursday, August 23, 2007

US Cellular: When ad slogans contradict reality

Cell phone carriers make big claims. They come up with catchy jingles and tag lines. At some point, the tag lines and jingles should probably reflect reality more than a sales pitch. Case in point, US Cellular's tag line is "We Connect With You." The company's new advertising slogan is "Wireless Where You Matter Most." Sounds safe and reassuring. If I have a US Cellular phone, I'll be connected and it will work everywhere, right?

Not exactly.

Keegan Hamilton reported this month that when it comes to 911 calls from your cell phone, there's a good chance the dispatcher won't know where you are or have your number. Hamilton's example was forty days of recorded cellphone calls in St. Louis county to 911. Each call followed the same pattern: urgent pleas for help followed by 10 - 15 seconds of dead silence. The problem is in a chip that US Cellular has in their phones that is supposed to actually help 911 dispatchers use GPS to identify a caller's location. The catch is that in order to do that, the audio connection is disabled.

Now I'm not real smart, but it seems to me that hearing what a panicked caller says might be slightly more important that waiting 15 seconds to pull up a longitude and latitude location. And even worse, dispatchers are hanging up on callers because they think the connection has been lost or it's one of the hundreds of wrong numbers or prank calls they get every day.

As for their advertising claims, it appears that US Cellular isn't exactly 'wireless where I matter most,' because when I dial 911, it's a pretty high priority. And if they are dropping voice capabilities during my 911 call, they aren't exactly 'connecting with me.'

Of course you can't hear me now. It's because I just switched to T-Mobile.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

An argument for generalist firms

I recently went through a new business pitch with a company looking for successful creation and execution of a communications strategy. We went through our song and dance and showcased some successful campaigns with companies in very similar, but not identical industries. They raved about the case studies, saying it's what they were looking for. It went very well and I'm anxious to hear back from them soon. However, just near the end of the meeting, a gentleman sitting across from me raised the following concern.

"My only fear is that you don't have recent experience with the inner circle of our industry."

OK, normally that's a valid concern if you're looking to hire a plumber. You don't ask a veterinarian to come in and give you a bid on replacing your sink. In our case with this company, the work is nearly identical, just in a different industry. I equate it to replacing a sink in a house vs. replacing a sink in a hotel room. Not much difference and a competent plumber should be able to handle both assignments well.

A point I raised was that he made so many congratulatory remarks over our case study examples. When we started with those companies, we didn't have experience with the 'inner circle' in those industries. And yet the results turned out extremely well. In addition, they had been with a specialty 'inner circle' agency for 8 years, and now they were looking elsewhere because results weren't there. Why couldn't we deliver the same results for his company that we had delivered for the case study companies?

The answer: We can! With few exceptions, most of our work is based on the successful execution of a sound strategy. It's no longer about how well you know the assignment editor at XYZ or that you used to work with the writer at ABC magazine. Those relationships will help get you in the door, but they don't mean crap if you can't deliver the goods. The media wants, and needs, smart stories. Companies need agencies that can help them tell their story in a way that's going to drive business results. That's what we do. Period.

There is a place for niche specialty firms. However, in this particular case, it was proven that that approach wasn't working. Maybe it's time to try something new.