Ad firm gains satellite account

Gray, Kirk plans to open 2-person office in Arizona

January 10, 2001|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Gray, Kirk/VanSant Advertising and Public Relations Inc. will expand to Phoenix, Ariz., after its selection to handle advertising for Iridium Satellite LLC.

The Baltimore-based advertising agency recently was named the agency of record for the satellite company - an account estimated to be worth about $7 million, according to an industry expert.

Iridium Satellite, led by former UNC Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dan A. Colussy, recently acquired the assets of Iridium LLC and plans to launch global satellite communications services early this year.

Iridium LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in August 1999 after the $7 billion project attracted just 20,000 subscribers. A judge approved the sale of 72 orbiting satellites by Iridium LLC to Iridium Satellite LLC in November 2000.

The new company will have its headquarters in Leesburg, Va., and l run its marketing and distribution arm from Tempe, Ariz.

"This is a very exciting win for us that gets us back into the satellite communications business," said Roger Gray, president and chief executive officer of Gray, Kirk.

The firm worked with Westinghouse in 1998 and Comsat during the mid-1990s, Gray said.

"Gray, Kirk/VanSant was chosen from among a carefully selected group of excellent advertising agencies from around the country, partly because of their demonstrated capabilities in satellite communications and other related fields," said Ginger Washburn, chief marketing officer for Iridium Satellite.

Gray said he plans to have the Phoenix office open no later than March 31. Initially the office will be staffed with two employees, he said.

"We have some other prospects in that general area," Gray said. "If they come to fruition, this will go beyond a satellite office."

Using a more targeted marketing approach, Gray, Kirk plans to help the satellite company get the attention of such businesses as mining and oil companies and other industries with poor land access for whom satellites would offer the best communications system. Part of the agency's work will be to remind people of the Iridium name and to promote the new management team, Gray said.

The win comes on the heels of the loss of the Choice Hotels International Inc. account, which represented about 25 percent of Gray, Kirk's business, and the layoffs of 13 employees in November.

"I think it's emotionally a good thing for us," Gray said. "It's a morale booster for the agency. Everyone was feeling a little down with the loss of Choice Hotels."

Gray, Kirk has annual billings of $123 million and counts among its clients regional and national companies in tourism, banking, financial services, high tech, health care, retail and real estate industries.

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