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Biotech Firm's Puzzling Mailer Gets the Point Across

Start-up biotechnology firm Silver Lake Research Corp. is using a mailer built around a word puzzle to pique the interest of its scientist prospects, gaining a half-dozen new relationships in the campaign's first two months.

The mailer is a sleeve with holes on one side to reveal letters printed on a card inside. Removing the card reveals the answers to the word-search puzzle. The card folds out to reveal more information about Silver Lake, and the flip side has contact information for the company.

Words in the puzzle are technical terms — including “cytokines” and “phosphorylated” — that prospects, who are scientists in the healthcare industry, would recognize. The mailer aims to overcome the ingrained skepticism of these prospects, who are apt to throw away materials they see as “junk mail,” said Tom Round, vice president of sales at Silver Lake, Monrovia, CA.

“They're all Ph.D.s,” Round said. “They think 90 percent of everything fails.”

Silver Lake ordered 1,500 of the mailers, which cost $5.50 each, and has shipped 1,000 in the past 60 days, Round said. The mailers are expensive because they consist of two separate pieces, are printed on thick paper stock in four colors and are laser die-cut with a complicated fold.

The response so far is significant because the campaign is the first time Silver Lake has tried direct marketing for its core product, a proprietary system for developing antibodies used in therapeutic drugs and diagnostic tests. The early results also are encouraging because its services cost companies thousands of dollars, Round said, though he declined to divulge a specific cost.

Previously, Silver Lake relied on trade conferences to develop contacts and get its name into play. But that proved inefficient, and the company sought a way to target specific prospects.

“We're small, and conferences are very expensive,” Round said. “You have to go through so many layers to get to the right people.”

Silver Lake's business development staff spent six months building a database of prospects and identifying decision makers, a process that is ongoing. The objective of the mail campaign is to develop relationships with key players at pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies in hopes of getting a contract the next time those companies undertake an antibody project, Round said.

“It can't be a hard sell,” he said. “If you have a unique technology, you don't want to do a real hard call to action.”

The word puzzle idea was the brainchild of On Target Advertising, Los Angeles, which provided creative services on the campaign. The mailer is interactive in the same sense that some e-mail campaigns use games and puzzles to interact with prospects, said Pam Patterson, creative director at On Target.

“It helps people keep interest in the piece and makes them want to look further,” she said.

The mailer comes in a clear plastic envelope, which creates a teaser element to further capture the prospect, Patterson said. Silver Lake is targeting a small universe of prospects who typically are inundated with mail, so it was important to use a piece that stood out amid the clutter, she said.

The mailer tried to communicate on two levels, Patterson said. The prospects are well-educated, specialized professionals, so the copy on the mailer contains complex language. Yet the prospects also are people you'd typically meet at a grocery store, so it was important to keep the piece simple and focused.

“In this sort of high-tech target audience, what you want to do is relate to people using the buzzwords and technical language they're used to hearing so they feel you understand their market,” she said. “You also want to relate to them on a grassroots level.”

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