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Sprint-Nextel Aligns Programs, Launches Rebranding Campaign

New York — Sprint Nextel will harmonize the consumer programs and distribution strategies of its two legacy companies and launch a massive rebranding campaign that promotes an expanded choice of phones, plans and services with the tagline “Yes, you can.”

The rebranding campaign, beginning Friday, Sept. 2, will promote the merged company under the Sprint name, but the company’s logo will say, “Sprint Together With Nextel.”

Sprint Nextel expects to saturate the country in September and through the fourth quarter with print, radio, TV, outdoor and online ads to generate 10 billion impressions. The ads will focus on how the combination of companies “will challenge the rules, end limitations and stand against restriction,” Sprint said. The company promised pricing plans that “appeal to every segment of the consumer and business population.”

Sprint will focus on “empowering personal accomplishment and business productivity” in the ads to differentiate it from competitors who promote themselves as the biggest or cheapest, said chief marketing officer Art Schweitzer during a launch event Wednesday night.

The ads will also position the company as a communications and entertainment company, said COO Len Lauer. Underscoring the choice theme, Schweitzer noted that Sprint customers can turn their phone into a camera, MP3 player, TV or navigation system.

The ad launch will coincide with the rebranding of the interior of all of approximately 800 Sprint-owned stores and 800 Nextel-owned stores. All stores’ selections will be expanded to offer Sprint’s CDMA-network phones and Nextel’s iDEN-network phones. New POP material and products were going on display in the stores today in time for Friday’s launch in what Sprint deemed “one of the fastest and largest retail branding efforts in the nation.”

Indirect dealers will follow suit in phases that will be completed in time for holiday season sales, Schweitzer told TWICE. The phase-in of handsets and programs will start with the highest volume dealers and will include such Sprint retailers as Best Buy, RadioShack and the co-branded RadioShack/Sprint shopping-mall kiosks that RadioShack has been rolling out.

Nextel’s existing 1,800 indirect relationships yield a store count of 10,000, Schweitzer said. Sprint’s existing indirect relationships deliver about 12,000 more retail storefronts. Sprint and Nextel indirect channels were complementary, with Nextel indirect distribution “more developed in medium and small indirect outlets,” he noted.

Although the number of outlets carrying Nextel and Sprint handsets will approximately double by the end of the year, Schweitzer said, “We have not heard that issue [overdistribution] from indirect retailers.”

Indirect retailers, however, will “have their choice of the breadth of devices they’ll carry locally,” he said.

Tim Kelly, Sprint’s consumer solutions president, declined to disclose how support and compensation programs for indirect retailers will change.

Executives were more forthcoming about changes in their consumer programs. Lauer, for example, said the combined company will adopt the best consumer programs of their legacy companies and incorporate them into a unified selection of consumer voice rate plans and a selection of service options that will grow even more alike in the coming months.

Nextel, for example, aggressively promoted free incoming calls, and now that service will be available to CDMA phone users who sign up for a specific plan. An unlimited-data price plan for CDMA users will be extended to iDEN users, as will Sprint’s Fair and Flexible plan, which includes nationwide roaming and adjusts automatically to meet a customer’s usage month to month to reduce overcharges.

Users of both types of phones will also get the option to start free-night service at 6 p.m., 7 p.m., or 9 p.m.

To promote these choices, Sprint will air commercials this fall during prime-time season premieres on all national television networks, including ABC, CBS, NBC, UPN, FOX and WB. More than 120 ads will appear in 36 national magazines, including Newsweek; O, The Oprah Magazine; PC Magazine; Time; and Sports Illustrated.

Local-market promotion will include print ads in more than 150 newspapers, outdoor advertising in 65 markets, and local-TV spots on more than 250 TV stations in 41 markets.

The company also plans a major advertising presence at major sporting events, including the U.S. Open Tennis championships on CBS; the NFL, including the Playoffs and the Super Bowl, on CBS and FOX; the Major League Baseball Playoffs, League Championships and the World Series on FOX; and the NASCAR Nextel Chase for the Cup on TNT and NBC.

To reach business customers, TV spots will appear on CNN, CNBC, “Meet the Press” and “Face the Nation,” and print ads will appear in business publications such as Fortune, Forbes, Business Week and The Wall Street Journal.

In another development, Sprint is implementing customer-service changes in many company-owned stores. They include in-store repair, reservations to meet a Sprint salesperson in the stores, new software that enables staff to more quickly manage handset issues, a designated host to help customers as they enter the store, a virtual queue that lets customers know if there is a waiting time, and an accessory express lane for customers who don’t need in-depth assistance.

As of August 2005, in-store repair was available in more than 445 stores; the designated host was available in about 375 stores, and the software was implemented in 820 stores.