Gumby, Popeye Star in BTB Mailer

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Classic cartoon characters conveyed a message of strength and flexibility for a human resources consulting and organizational development firm that is winding down a yearlong direct marketing campaign.

Maher & Maher, Neptune, NJ, which specializes in training and e-learning solutions for the broadband and government services sectors, began targeting clients and prospects at the end of 2002 with a box that included this statement on the outside: "There's only one other guy who is as flexible as Maher & Maher." Opening the box revealed a Gumby toy as well as promotional copy that began, "And he doesn't know much about the consulting and training business."

The Gumby mailer went out through the first quarter of 2003 with the effort's second phase starting in the summer when a second box began mailing.

"There's only one other guy who's as strong as Maher & Maher," appeared on its cover. A Popeye toy waited to be discovered inside the box where "But, he swears like a sailor" served as the continuation of what appeared on the outside. The second box was mailed through the end of 2003.

"We'll come in, assess your needs and mobilize our team to deliver the strongest training or consulting solution," read the copy in the Popeye piece. "And, because we're fueled by powerful industry knowledge (not spinach) we'll get the job done within your time frame. From training 500 people on a new product or technology to re-designing work processes, we'll create a turnkey solution. That's the Maher & Maher way."

Clients received both pieces in an effort to increase the amount of business from them. Prospects got one or both, depending on if and when they became clients.

"We thought about it not being serious enough, but quickly decided not to worry about it," company president Rick Maher said. "We wanted to open doors, penetrate our existing accounts further, and we wanted to simplify our message. Ours is a very specialized firm, and it is not easy to get our complex message across. Gumby is flexible, and Popeye is strong.

"The broadband sector consists of innovators, and they gravitate to a fresh look. The people in government are focused on e-government, and they are also out-of-the-box thinkers who don't want the same old stale approach. So it worked for both audiences."

The boxes were sent to the company's 75 clients and 170 prospects via Priority Mail. About a week after the mailing, a tri-panel brochure and a letter were sent as a follow-up. That was followed by a call a week later from a senior manager who would look to schedule a presentation.

The cost was $18,500, a miniscule amount compared with what has been generated.

"We have landed six companies as new clients and four major new contracts from previously existing clients," Maher said. "Our average contract size is well into the six figures. We knew that one good, new client could pay for the campaign. One of the four new projects alone is worth $1.5 million, and that's from a previously existing account, a government agency.

"I didn't know what to expect. But now it's getting to the point where I walk into an executive's office and he has Popeye propped up on his desk. It's a conversation piece, and it's creating its own kind of persona. That's perfect for us."

A key to the success was stretching the effort over an extended period, as only "a handful" of the pieces were mailed "every couple of weeks."

"We did not want to say too much about ourselves in the piece," he said. "We wanted to follow up on the phone after they mailed and tell them at that point what we could do for them. We would tell them that we sent them Gumby and Popeye, and they would say, 'Oh yeah, I remember that.' They would often say, 'I have it,' or, 'I gave it to my kid.' It allowed us to open up a conversation on a completely personal level."

Maher's company has 31 employees.

"If we mailed them all in one week and 17 people called us at once, we couldn't respond and handle our existing work at the same time," he said. "We are looking to fill our sales pipeline, but we don't want to overburden our ability to respond."

Neither the Popeye nor Gumby names were included on or in the boxes because of copyright concerns and creative considerations.

"You would have to get authorization from whoever licenses Popeye and Gumby if you use their names, but not if you just use the product," said Dana Pluss, public relations manager for Scream Agency, Denver, which managed, created and executed the campaign for Maher & Maher. "There was an assumption that the audience receiving the direct mail pieces would understand who the icons were, and that using their names would not be necessary."


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