Troubled Qwest Pitches Service with Ads, Slogan

Embattled telecom Qwest Communications is turning to a new ad campaign centered around its efforts to improve customer service — a message that would also help mitigate some of the negativity stemming from its current financial and legal woes.

The Denver-based telephone infrastructure and broadband provider said a slate of new ads would run initially in the 14 states where the company provides local telephone service, and aim to highlight what the company says is a renewed focus on customers.

The ads will all feature a new tagline, “Spirit of Service,” which replaces the company’s “Ride the Light” slogan, with its implicit focus on the power of the company’s technology, especially its DSL offerings.

The TV spots, designed by Foote, Cone and Belding New York, show Qwest employees continuing each other’s thoughts while commenting on the company’s dedication to improving customer service.

“Watch us now,” the employees say during one of the spots. “Now we’re going to change telecommunications for the better. We’re going to make you root for us, one action at a time. Now we’re going to make it simpler and more reliable — one action at a time.”

“It’s the right things for the customers. It’s the customer’s needs, putting the customer first. This is not about lip service. Hard work. This is the spirit of service. I’m proud to work at Qwest. We’re going to build something special here. We’re going to become a great American success story.”

Additionally, online ads running on business-to-business sites will promote specific Qwest products, such as virtual private networks.

Qwest says the campaign is accompanied by major changes in the way the company does business.

“We have introduced a company-wide plan and process that will align our operations and communications and bring to life the experience our customers want and need from their telecommunications provider,” said spokesperson Joan Walker. “The ‘Spirit of Service’ message summarizes our employees’ passion to provide customers with best-in-class service and will guide us as we work toward this goal.”

The company’s new tagline draws its name to a painting from the early 1900s of a New England Bell technician repairing a telephone line during the Great Blizzard of 1888.

That theme — servicing customers despite adverse conditions — is central to Qwest’s current message to customers, coming as it does amid major turmoil for the company.

For one thing, Qwest is struggling to cope with more than $26 billion in debt, which has fueled speculation that the company will be forced into bankruptcy. In August, the company agreed to sell its index subsidiary for about $7 billion, which will be used to defray debt.

The telecom player also is under investigation by federal and criminal authorities about how it accounted for several transactions — including deals involved swapped network capacity — which critics charge artificially boosted revenue for the firm.

Qwest already has said that it will discount $950 million in sales as having been improperly booked, and could add to that figure. Several employees’ testimony before Congress last week also indicated that executives obscured the prohibited nature of some of the network capacity arrangements.

However, former CEO Joseph Nacchio denied in testimony on Tuesday that the company intentionally set up sham deals to wrongfully boost revenues.

Spending was not disclosed in the new campaign, although Qwest’s advertising account has typically run about $100 million annually.

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