Join thousands of weekly readers and receive practical marketing advice for FREE.
MarketingSherpa's Case Studies, New Research Data, How-tos, Interviews and Articles

Enter your email below to join thousands of marketers and get FREE weekly newsletters with practical Case Studies, research and training, as well as MarketingSherpa updates and promotions.


Please refer to our Privacy Policy and About Us page for contact details.

No thanks, take me to MarketingSherpa

First Name:
Last Name:
Oct 02, 2001
Case Study

SUMMARY: How can you market to an industry that's in a bad recession? Pat Harpell, CEO of Harpell, a 45-person marketing firm serving the hard-hit high tech sector, knew that to get new clients this year, her team had to create an extraordinary sales lead prospecting campaign.

Even if you have nothing to do with high tech marketing or ad agency biz dev, you should definitely click to see this Case Study because the lyrics to Harpell's song, "Let's All Blame the Marketing Director" are SO much fun.

She says, "It's not about the 4 'P's anymore -- it's about the customer. You have to get inside the prospect's shorts and figure out what makes them itch." She believes this so strongly that she actually has a pair of "tasteful" boxer shorts hanging on the wall in her office. "They travel with us -- we use them in all our presentations."

Now she had to apply this marketing philosophy during one of the biggest economic downturns in her agency's history. Would it work?


Although Harpell's been in business since 1982, she didn't presume to know the current marketplace as intimately as boxer shorts would imply. So, before putting together a campaign, Harpell commissioned a thorough quantitative market research study from third-party firm Market Perspectives.

The survey, which was emailed to two targeted opt-in lists (The Mass Software Council and the NewMedia list), immediately paid off. Harpell says, "The response was pretty straight forward. People said, 'My budget's been cut but I have to produce more.' 'I'm on my way out the door.' 'My staff's been cut.' There was incredible pain!"

After several brainstorming sessions, Harpell's team came up with a compelling direct marketing campaign designed to deeply appeal to high tech marketers. They named it, "Let’s All Blame the Marketing Director."

The team wrote a farcical song of this title, which echoed what many marketers were experiencing in their jobs. (Lyrics below.) Then they cut a CD with barbershop quartet singing it. Plus, the Art Director created an old-fashioned songbook that looked like it was from the 1920s, entitled, "Let's All Blame the Marketing Director; and Other Favorite Sing-Alongs for an Economic Slowdown -- with Ukulele Arrangement". They enclosed the songbook, plus a one page letter that began, "Dear beleaguered marketing professional and fellow music lover:", in a clear plastic 9x12 envelope so that recipients could see the art.

Notably, they did not include a response card or form. Instead both the letter and a notice on the back of the songbook directed recipients to a special mini-Web site to get a free white paper, "Turning the Soft Economy to Your Advantage."

Also notably, when prospects landed on the mini-Web site, they discovered a variety of offers in addition to the single white paper described in the package. They could sign up to get a free CD of the song, opt-in for a free email newsletter, request free reports specifically on high tech marketing, learn about Harpell's "MarketBusters" speaker series, and even request a sales rep phone call.

Harpell explains why she decided to offer multiple options on the campaign landing page, "Depending on what they signed up for, you can tell where they are in the sales cycle. For example if someone gets the white paper we know they're very interested. Next time I communicate with them I have to communicate value, 'Oh you downloaded this, tell me what's your burning need?' If they're signing up for the newsletter it's a long sales cycle. They are gathering information. So we start the process of positioning ourselves as thought leaders -- the company that's there to help you versus just bill you."

The direct mail campaign was launched as a staggered weekly mailing (so biz dev reps could handle incoming leads) in April 2001 and ran through July. It was sent to four handpicked lists -- iMarket database, Marketing Computers (now Technology Marketing), BeFree's B-to-B merchant list (with slightly altered creative), and Harpell's own house prospect file. The team created a special landing page for each list so they could accurately measure results.


For a total cost of around $50,000 plus staff time, Harpell gained four new clients with billings into seven figures, and an invaluable pipeline of additional leads.

Harpell says, "We're still getting results from it. In fact I got a call yesterday from a company I've been pitching for over a year. He said, 'My bosses' boss just walked in with the piece and said let's get in with these people and see what they can do for us!'" She continues, "It's creating a visceral, emotional response for many marketers. We get requests from people who want to hang it on their wall. One marketer used the song CD for his national sales meeting."

The sales leads started coming in during the survey stage because the final survey question asked if a Harpell representative could call to discuss helping respondents with their marketing. This question generated about 100 sales leads from the 342 total survey respondents.

Knowing that reporters love to run stories with numbers in them, Harpell's Marketing Director, Karen Carney, also used the survey results to create a series of three press releases to get media attention. For example, one release headline read, "Harpell Survey Shows: Branding Takes Backseat to the Need to Drive Sales". More than a half dozen publications picked up the story, including Boston Business Journal and AdWeek. These mentions generated additional sales leads.

The direct mail campaign itself produced astonishing results, which revealed no matter how great your creative is, the list really makes a difference:
- iMarket List (small targeted selection): 29.65% response
- Marketing Computers: 2.4% response
- House list: more than 100% response due to viral pass-along

Mini-Site for Campaign

Research Firm

iMarket Lists

Here are the lyrics for everyone to enjoy (please don't cut them out and forward them to friends -- instead please forward this entire issue, so they can see how great MarketingSherpa is!)

Lyrics: “Let’s All Blame the Marketing Director”

The leads dried up and the phones wouldn’t ring…
Cash wouldn’t flow and we felt the sting…
Of an economy gone south and the CEO’s scream:

“Who’s to blame for this state of distress?”
“It’s the Marketing Director!” We all confessed.

It’s a sad excuse, but the boss’ll buy it
If business keeps slipping, there’s bound to be a riot
And we don’t wanna be found out as the ones they all name:

“Who’s to blame…for this state of distress?”
“It’s the Marketing Director!” We all confessed.

Let’s all blame the Marketing Director,
That low-down, yellow-bellied business wrecker
Because of that crank we’re in this hole
Sunk to the bottom of the market sector

Our hopes are up, but our sales are down
And we’re not the only game in town
But we’re telling you we won’t hang our heads in shame

“Who’s to blame…for this state of distress?”
“It’s the Marketing Director!” We all confessed.

“Who’s to blame…for this state of distress?”
“It’s the Marketing Director! Don’t hire an inspector!
It’s the Marketing Director…we all love to blame!”
See Also:

Post a Comment

Note: Comments are lightly moderated. We post all comments without editing as long as they
(a) relate to the topic at hand,
(b) do not contain offensive content, and
(c) are not overt sales pitches for your company's own products/services.

To help us prevent spam, please type the numbers
(including dashes) you see in the image below.*

Invalid entry - please re-enter

*Please Note: Your comment will not appear immediately --
article comments are approved by a moderator.

Improve Your Marketing

Join our thousands of weekly Case Study readers.

Enter your email below to receive MarketingSherpa news, updates, and promotions:

Note: Already a subscriber? Want to add a subscription?
Click Here to Manage Subscriptions

Best of the Week:
Marketing case studies and research

Chart Of The Week

B2B Marketing

Consumer Marketing

Email marketing

Inbound Marketing

SherpaStore Alerts


We value your privacy and will not rent or sell your email address. Visit our About Us page for contact details.