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How to Hook the Biggest Fish

By Karen E. Klein Q: I have a product that entertains and educates kids about whales. It would be the perfect promotion for a large company interested in the environment. How do I get past the gatekeepers at those companies and reach those with vision? -- A.D.K., Mechanicsburg, Pa.

A: Your instinct to focus on making connections at the top is sound. Middle managers are typically the easiest people to access in large corporations, but many aren't interested in doing more than maintaining the status quo -- which means not adding anything new to their current workloads. Presidents and CEOs are usually more visionary and future-oriented, and they are more likely to see potential in an idea that others see only as "more work."

How to gain access to the visionaries? Ken Keller, president and CEO of Star Business Consulting advises starting simple: Send mail to the president or CEO asking for an appointment to discuss a potential new product. If your letter is engaging and well-written, who knows? You just might hit a nerve with an executive desperate for new opportunities. It's worth a try.

SHOW AND TELL. More roundabout strategies include finding out which civic, social, industry, or fraternal organizations these executives attend and then making a point of attending these meetings and introducing yourself. How do you find out which groups they belong to? If they're local, ask around. Big names are often quite visible in the clubs they frequent.

Another place to access top individuals is at the trade shows that cater to their industries. Just remember to attend early. "Most of the target audience will be in attendance in booths and conferences on the first couple of days of the show," Keller says. "After that, attendance of presidents and CEOs drops off dramatically."

Give yourself some credibility by writing an article about the industry, focusing on the concept of new ideas and how they can bring in added revenue. "Even if it is self-published, send it directly to the presidents and CEOs of organizations in the industry," Keller suggests.

What if you come up empty after trying all of the above? Make a list of everyone you know and start calling them to ask if they know someone who knows someone at the companies you are targeting. "Try to close that 'six degrees of separation' by using your connections," Keller advises. Sometimes, it really is a small, small world.

Have a question about your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an e-mail at, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 45th Floor, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally. Karen E. Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.

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