Partner with Established Brands to Build Your Own

You are known for the company you keep (as well as the company you are). There are several ways to bask in reflected glory. For example, you can run an ad for your product featuring your most prestigious customers. There’s some chance that those customers will kick in some money to support your ad, but don’t count on it, at least in the early stages.

Even better (and certainly cheaper) is getting your customers to build you into their ads. When we were building our game company in the upscale market, we looked to run ads for our products with stores like Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s, which were then dominant game retailers. We worked hard to get them to put our name in the ad: “. . . By Reiss Games!” It was amazing how many other retailers bought into our products after we showed them these ads.

The good news was that we didn’t need a lot of money to pull this off. We (like our competition) built a sum of money for an “ad allow­ance” into our product. In other words, we rebated to our customers 10 percent of their purchases toward advertising. If the opening order wasn’t enough to cover the ad cost, we would advance the balance to ensure our ad with these strategic customers at the outset. Similarly, you can encourage a key targeted customer to run an ad with your product and your name by giving them an exclusive on the product for an agreed-upon period—say, thirty days.

Another good tactic is to use established sales representatives (reps). Trade on the good name of these sales reps to get orders from your targeted accounts.

Be aware that you’ll probably have to do a substantial sales job on the good ones to get them to take your line. But this investment is well worth it. First, and most important in the short run, your fixed cost for employing these established reps will be zero (they mostly get paid on commission). And in the long run, once you’ve established a mutual rapport and proven that your company has talent and staying power, these reps can help you hire on additional reps in other territories.

Partnering with established entities, preferably with a tie to your products, can also be a good credibility builder. When we produced a line of magic-related products, we approached the Society of American Magicians, a prestigious national organization, and offered to help them promote National Magic Week by sending local magicians into J. C. Penney stores around the country to demonstrate magic.

The Magic Castle Club in Beverly Hills features highly skilled magicians (in addition to good food). One weekend, we paid their magicians to demonstrate our products in all thirty-one Broadway Department Stores (a prominent Los Angeles chain). In return, Broadway ran full-page newspaper ads and radio spots about the event, which included a drawing at each store for a dinner for two at the Magic Castle. (Broadway paid for these ads.) So it was a win-win-win-win. The Magic Castle and Broadway got good publicity at an affordable price. A group of magicians got the chance to make some good money doing what they liked to do in front of mostly appreciative audiences. And we got our products into a leading chain, and also had our name publicly associated with two respected institutions.

Last but not least, don’t overlook the power of endorsements. Certain products and services lend themselves to endorsement by celebrities and other prominent individuals. The relationship can be direct (athletes endorsing breakfast cereals, doctors endorsing health products) or more tenuous (athletes endorsing high-end wristwatches). Somewhat more difficult to pull off, but often less expensive, is the man-on-the-street endorsement: “Down at Joe’s Diner, here’s what they’re saying about the new all-night cough medicine.”