CIT Sees Response From Memorabilia Pitch

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A company that specializes in providing equipment-financing loans to large corporations is scoring a home run with its latest direct marketing campaign, in which prospects receive a three-piece baseball memorabilia set - autographed by baseball legends - in exchange for agreeing to meet with sales representatives.

The CIT Group/Equipment Financing division of commercial and consumer lending company The CIT Group, Livingston, NJ, has had a response rate of about 65 percent from a campaign in which it mailed out 225 baseballs autographed by Whitey Ford, along with a collector's display case with room for the two other pieces in the set - a bat signed by Johnny Bench and a glove signed by Brooks Robinson. Gia Porto-Lenza, vice president of marketing at the division, said she expects the campaign to garner an 80 percent response rate by next month when the response activity is likely to taper off.

"Even if you're not a collector, you are interested because you know there's some kind of inherent value in the items," she said. "The names I use are recognizable."

The initial mailings, which included a brochure that folds out into the shape of a stadium, dropped in late September just as the major league baseball playoffs were getting under way.

The campaign is the second sports-memorabilia effort conducted this year by The CIT Group/Equipment Financing, which last year won an Echo award from the Direct Marketing Association, New York, for a three-part dimensional campaign it did last year when it mailed mountain-climbing equipment to 400 prospects. This past spring, the company offered autographed Jack Nicklaus putters to prospects who agreed to meet with CIT sales representatives.

In the current campaign, prospects who return a reply card receive the baseball bat. The final piece in the set, the glove, is hand-delivered by the sales rep from CIT. The prospects are selected based on input from the sales team.

"We ask the salespeople to think about their territories and their targets and to include people who they just can't get in the door of," said Porto-Lenza.

This spring's golf campaign has thus far generated about $177 million in loans, she said, although she noted that sometimes it takes years before an actual transaction takes place once a sales representative has an initial meeting. Last year's mountain-climbing campaign has brought in about $257 million in new lending volume, the company said.

The campaigns target mid- to large-sized manufacturing firms and other companies that might need equipment financing of $1 million or more.

Porto-Lenza declined to reveal the costs of the campaigns, which she develops in-house. But, she pointed out, "I have a very small budget."

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