Kaiser Renews Pitch for Mid-Atlantic Market

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HMO Kaiser Permanente returned to the plate May 8 with a direct mail campaign that builds on an effort last year featuring legendary baseball manager Branch Rickey to generate brand awareness in the mid-Atlantic region. Targeting C-level executives responsible for human resources decisions, Kaiser's effort this year expands to include companies with 250-plus employees in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC. Last year's effort focused on firms with at least 500 employees.

This year's first drop, whose size was not disclosed, occurred May 8, with three drops planned. Like last year, the intent is to interest recipients in making a call for a face-to-face appointment with a Kaiser representative. Despite last year's effort, Kaiser remains relatively new to the mid-Atlantic region and seeks ways to target companies with large revenue possibilities, said Doug Milnor, account manager at Kaiser Permanente agency Hacker Group. Kaiser, Oakland, CA, is one of the nation's largest nonprofit health plans, with 8.2 million members in nine states and the District of Columbia.

The health maintenance organization had used direct mail before last year, Mr. Milnor said, but it mostly was handled in-house and results were disappointing. "Typical kinds of direct marketing don't work as well in large organizations," he said. "It doesn't do enough to move the needle. You've got to do something that creates a lot more awareness, impact and penetration."

Kaiser then decided to work with an agency for last year's effort. Hacker devised a campaign with the theme, "In the Company of Greats," focused on two business managers who weren't necessarily recognized for being forward thinkers in their day. But they now are considered revolutionary: Mr. Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers general manager who signed Jackie Robinson, and Anne Mulcahy, the chairman/CEO credited with turning around Xerox Corp. The baseball tie-in seemed a natural because Washington had reintroduced a major-league team last year after a long absence, and "the thought process was, 'Let's piggyback on the fanfare of the Washington Nationals coming into DC with a business leader outside the norm,' " Mr. Milnor said.

Ms. Mulcahy was chosen because she's someone "who's had a huge impact but is not as readily recognized," said Brad Douglas, vice president of new business development at Hacker. Hacker refused to divulge this year's heroes. The 2005 campaign comprised two drops in July, two weeks apart. Both dimensional mailings sought to get past the gatekeeper and reach the desk of the highest-level person in the company with HR decision-making responsibility. The first mailing included a baseball personalized with the recipient's name and a letter that told the story of Mr. Rickey, drawing parallels with the courageous decisions business leaders are called to make.

The second mailer included a pewter paperweight engraved with a quote from Ms. Mulcahy as well as the name and telephone number of someone to contact for an appointment and to receive a copy "Winning," a book by former GE chief Jack Welch. To ensure the campaign reached the right individual, Hacker generated a list of companies and then used telemarketing to refine the list. The 15 percent response rate "exceeded the client's expectation," Mr. Milnor said. Plus, 20 percent of recipients requested additional baseballs.

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