Bankrupt FairPoint hires ad firms

AP News
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Posted: Nov 24, 2009 5:59 PM

FairPoint Communications, struggling to emerge from bankruptcy, has hired two Maine firms to beef up marketing and communications.

The phone company has hired Portland-based Garrand and the VIA Group to help get the word out about its services.

Garrand will focus on marketing and building brand awareness for FairPoint's new VantagePoint, a new broadband network geared to medical care, research and large businesses. VIA will work on marketing to residents and small businesses.

FairPoint recently announced a $77 million loss in the quarter ending Sept. 30. The company filed for bankruptcy in October, barely 18 months after it bought the former Verizon Communications landline and Internet business in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont and became northern New England's dominant phone company.

"It's part of operating the business. Marketing yourself to your potential customer base is something that you have to do," Jeff Nevins, spokesman for the Charlotte, N.C.-based FairPoint, said Tuesday.

Maine Public Advocate Richard Davies, who represents consumers in utility cases in that state, agreed. He said that as FairPoint tries to reorganize and get itself back on solid footing, the company should try to operate as close as it can to business as usual.

"They do need to market their products ... that could help them bring in some revenue and stabilize their finances," Davies said.

The strategy also got an endorsement _ with a caveat _ from Don Trementozzi, president of union Local 1400 of the Communication Workers of America, which has members working for FairPoint in the three states.

"I think whether you're bankrupt or not, you're in business, a communications company in a competitive market," Trementozzi said. "I don't find that to be unusual in this case."

FairPoint needs to win the public's confidence after bungling the technical aspects of the network handover from Verizon, leaving many customers frustrated with dropped calls, billing errors and slow action on service orders.

Trementozzi said he hoped advertising would be geared "to reassure the public that they're a viable company here to do business and capable of handling products and services to the consumer."

Michelle Kainen, a White River Junction, Vt., lawyer specializing in bankruptcy, said she, too, was not surprised at FairPoint's efforts to step up marketing and advertising. But Kainen, who suffered a long delay in getting voicemail from the company and then lost messages in a voicemail box, laughed as she suggested one other area where the company could spend the money.

"They ought to hire more customer service people," Kainen said.