It's a hot niche: products and services that help big corporations enhance employee welfare. Start-ups in the field, from day-care-referral businesses to collection services targeting "deadbeat dads," find that piggybacking on large companies is a great way to tap consumer markets.

"Education Today," a three-year-old, 19-employee newsletter for parents, published by Educational Publishing Group in Boston, is distributed nationwide to 60 corporations. Merck and Polaroid, among others, purchase the publication for their interested employees.

"We offer a visible benefit that positions the company as family-friendly and concerned with education," says "Education Today" founder Jonathan Carson. So far, some 45,000 parents (and grandparents) of school-age kids receive the eight-times-yearly complimentary publication, which advises how to get more out of schools. The employer's name appears above the logo; issues can be customized to include, for example, CEO interviews. Companies pay $6 to $14.95 per employee for subscriptions, depending on volume. To Carson, it made more sense to call on CEOs than to launch a massive direct-mail campaign to parents. When he did try a mailing, to the Weekly Reader list, he got a 2% response. When he lands a corporate account, 10% to 15% of the company's employees sign up to receive the newsletter.

Making a sale to upper management, however, can take years, say several companies that target large-company CEOs. "Keep track of personnel changes," advises Marguerite Sallee, CEO of $10-million Corporate Child Care Management Ser-vices, in Nashville. "We'll ask about a new CEO's agenda and try to make that person successful."

Carson knocked on many corporate doors before his big break: the newsletter was handed out at a board meeting of the Business Roundtable, whose members top the Fortune 500. He's since added a phone hot line and consulting services.

-- Susan Greco

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