By Joseph F. Schuler Jr.. Considering a holiday mailing this year? To usher in 2002, Mueller Nicholls sent 5,000, 8-inch-long, 13-ounce 2x4s to 5,000 former clients, prospects, architects, and vendors -- nearly two tons of Douglas fir in all.

"One guy called up and said I need 15,000 more of these to finish up my remodel," says Steve Nicholls.

To a firm that has a "Jokesite" on its Web site and has hosted an April Fools' Day anniversary party, using a 2x4 to increase company awareness makes perfect sense. The company shipped the wood in early January. Nicholls hoped the blocks stood out from usual holiday mailing clutter and stuck around all year. (They're perfect paperweights.) At $2 apiece to have them milled, printed, shrink-wrapped, labeled, and mailed, Nicholls figured the blocks for solid pieces of strategic marketing. "We know that unique things work. They don't bring immediate business, but top-of-mind awareness, which is what we were after."

Call 'em crazy, but Mueller Nicholls used the means of its trade to get attention from the 5,000 contacts on its mailing list.

Even so, he says it's tough to measure the effectiveness of the wooden campaign. "I just wanted people to get a hunk of wood in the mail," he says. "I wanted to get some kind of response but wanted it to be whimsical." What's next year's plan? Nicholls is mum. "We'll not do a 2x4, that's been done. We're thinking glulams."