It's not easy for manufacturers to get to know the people who ultimately use their products. So Pro-Mark, a $10-million drumstick maker in Houston, advertises in trade publications like Modern Drummer. The ads help bring the 40-year-old family business closer to its retail customers' customers, test-market new products, and build brand loyalty. "I've been selling drumsticks for 40 years," says founder Herb Brochstein, "and my instincts have been right a great deal of the time." Modern Drummer's readers agree. Pro-Mark won five awards in the magazine's 1995 consumer poll, including most interesting advertising/marketing campaign. Here are a few of Pro-Mark's campaigns and their payoffs:

Finding test-marketers. One ad, offering free product samples in return for customer feedback, generated more than 3,000 responses. The respondents' names were entered into a database, and each received a catalog in addition to the sample drumsticks. The new test-marketers have proved to be conscientious reviewers. For example, when Pro-Mark recently tested a new finish, it sent samples to 125 drummers, and only one failed to return the detailed questionnaire. For the first two years of the project, the company boasted a 100% response rate.

Profiling end users. In June 1995, Pro-Mark ran a simple black-and-white ad asking readers to nominate themselves to be selected as the "Not Yet Famous Drummer." Readers sent in a photo of themselves and filled out a survey card, indicating preferences in drumsticks, music styles, and bands -- information that helps Pro-Mark target future ads. The contest not only made stars of the winning unknown drummers, whose pictures appeared in subsequent ads in Modern Drummer, but doubled Pro-Mark's database of names. Five thousand people entered the contest, and the company received 100 calls a week for months about it. "Our customer base is made up of countless thousands of nameless drummers," says Brochstein, "but the point is, we're branding the Pro-Mark name in their minds."

Promoting new products. When Pro-Mark wanted to draw attention to former Pearl Jam drummer Dave Abbruzzese's new autographed drumsticks, it printed a coupon allowing readers to buy them for $5 and entering them in a contest to win a chance to hang out with Abbruzzese. More than 3,500 people sent back coupons. Pro-Mark added those names to its catalog mailing list. The company's only costs were the black-and-white ad and the famed drummer's expenses.