'Someday we will both be dead...'

'Let's do some business before it's too late'. Hester Lacey on business cards with, er, a serious message

How does a top-flight businessperson reach out to new clients? Boring mailshots and dull form-letters are passe, according to Greg Zedlar of Conceptual Thinking Inc. He advocates the use of greetings cards.

One of his designs features a sombre picture of a cemetery, captioned "Someday we will both be dead". Inside is the message "Let's do some business before it's too late," with a handy flap to slot in a conventional business card. Another of his masterpieces has a striking black and red cover. "What is the color of your business?" it enquires, pertinently. Inside, the card reads "Our services will help keep you in the black". "I don't know how Stonehenge was built," admits another caption, with a picture of the famous stones. "However, I do know our services will benefit you."

Zedlar, 31, was a senior financial advisor with American Express until he felt the need to do "something creative". Conceptual Thinking Inc has been in business since May and has sold around 26,000 cards since then. More than half of Zedlar's clients are blue-chip firms; computer giant IBM, telecommunications company AT&T, stockbrokers Merrill Lynch. He is not surprised by the high-profile names that have flocked to his door. "Well, I was a typical corporate guy," he says. "They come to us because they're tired of doing what is traditional and they want to express their personality. After all, under every suit and tie is an individual person."

He started off doing most of the designing himself, with family and friends to help; focus groups gave their opinions on his efforts. Not every idea makes the grade. "We want to have an edge, but we don't want to insult or offend," explains Zedlar. "The card with the cemetery on was originally designed with a picture of a nuclear explosion, but the overwhelming thought was that it would be too much - especially for Japanese people. So we toned it down."

The cards cost $1.69 (around pounds 1) each for a minimum order of 50; orders of over 100 cost $1.39 each (envelopes included). "When you compare the cost of a card and a business letter, a card costs one-third of a letter," says Zedlar. "It is when you factor in the labour costs - thinking time, typing or dictation time, proofing and printing, that you realise a card is really cost-effective. You just have to jot down a personal message and mail it. It is the Cadillac of greetings cards," he adds proudly.

It seems as though Zedlar has struck lucky. According to the Greeting Card Association of America, business greetings cards are currently the fastest-growing niche in the market. He can still go back to financial advice if he wants to; his financial business partner, Brad Salo, is working a 12-hour day to keep his seat warm at American Express. But it seems likely that Zedlar will stick with the cards. "Managing money is very conservative," he says. "Here, I'm risking a lot of money. But I am the happiest I have ever been. I am finally doing what my soul needs."

For a catalogue, call Conceptual Thinking Inc on 001 818 505 6800, or see website conceptualthinking.com

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