Whether you're launching a new service, targeting a different audience, or formally “introducing” your company to the community for the first time, you'll do it more successfully if you hit your target market with a splash. An emerging tool for leveraging your impact in such scenarios may be “affinity marketing”: in essence, splitting the cost with a non-competing company that sells to the same crowd.

An appliance manufacturer? A plumbing supplier or interior design firm? Try a jewelry store.

In February, HomeMasons, an established design/build remodeling company in Manakin-Sabot, Va., a suburb of Richmond, kicked off an affinity partnership with Vera's Fine Jewelers, a similarly established retailer also outside the city. “We really wanted to hit hard this year,” says Bunnie Pinkston, HomeMasons' office manager. The major impetus for the push is the company's new HandyMan Services division, which serves a broader market than its relatively small circle of high-end design/build clients. A second goal is to reinforce the company's 2004 name change from McGuire Hearns and Toms.

The partnership launched in late January with a two-week radio advertising blitz called “Love Is On the Air.” Each company paid $2,500 and shared $5,000 in advertising time. The blitz culminated on Valentine's Day with the on-air naming of the winner of 16 hours of “honey-do” HandyMan Services work, as well as a $1,500 diamond pendant. A handcrafted valentine (shown) highlighting the partnership also went to 1,000 people on HomeMasons' mailing list.

Throughout the year, and possibly beyond, the HomeMasons-Vera's partnership will encompass additional cross-promotions, such as Vera's gift certificates for clients who have completed significant remodeling projects.

LOVE AND MARRIAGE Why jewelry? Why radio? Why Valentine's Day? “A design-remodeling business and a jewelry store have the same demographics,” says David Saunders, managing partner of Madison+Main, a Richmond advertising agency that specializes in creative solutions for small businesses (www.madisonandmain.net).

Vera's was already Saunders' client when Home-Masons approached him, and both largely sell to affluent women in the same geographic area. Saunders proposed the radio campaign as “a good first test” of the partnership, with Valentine's Day as a hitch for playfully tying together the themes of home and love. Considerations:

Cost-benefit equation. Radio reaches too broad an audience for most full-service remodelers, but “it takes a lot more handyman jobs to equal one large project,” Saunders says. Unlike markets dominated by radio monolith Clear Channel, Richmond's airwaves are relatively affordable yet reach a substantial commuter population.

Targeted listeners. Saunders chose a modern, light-jazz radio station that, he says, had the core demographics he was looking for: “35- to 64-year-old females above a certain income and educational attainment.” Each company's 30-second spots ran in a two-week rotation, along with “live mentions” and a daily call-in contest on a popular morning show hosted by a male-female team.

Relevant message. Catchy and irreverent, the ads spoof online dating ads that run “incessantly on that kind of station,” Saunders says. “We didn't have a million dollars to set up a long-term branding campaign. You get there quicker with humor.” A woman's voice says, “I need a real man, someone who understands me and knows how to fix a garbage disposal.”

Call to action. A male announcer ends the ads with HomeMasons' phone number and Web site.

On February 14, HomeMasons president Mason Hearn and the owner of Vera's went on air live to announce the contest winner: a single mother whose thrilled reaction was testament to the appeal of a handyman service. By then, traffic on HomeMasons' Web site was more than triple the total for all of January, and activity (and calls) are expected to snowball as the multifaceted campaign continues.

Finding Affinity Want to do some affinity marketing in your community? To identify a good partner, says David Saunders of advertising agency Madison+Main, begin by analyzing your clients: age, income, gender, education, location. “Then look for another organization that has an identical mirror demographic” but is not your competitor. The best partnerships are long-term and integrate many marketing approaches, “so the owners have got to be friends with each other,” he adds. Saunders also suggests having a third-party broker the deal, such as a business consultant, a mutual friend, or a small agency (like his) that specializes in small business.