The research and development limited partnership is hardly a standard capital-raising device, but exotic variations on it have already begun to emerge.

Take Parker, Alexander & Co., for example. The small New York brokerage firm needed development funds last year to prepare a new direct-mail campaign, but it had no cash for the project, even though the campaign promised a big payoff in additional clients. So Parker, Alexander got the new direct-mail campaign through a "marketing limited partnership." The partnership financed the campaign's design, then turned it over to Parker, Alexander in return for a percentage of the revenues that the firm derives from the direct-mail effort.

The marketing partnership was devised by Product Performance Group (PPG) of New Hope, Pa., a firm that was formed to bring investment funds into the marketing efforts of smaller companies, particularly young ones.

"Historically, companies have done some equity financing in developing a product, only to find that they need second-tier financing again for the marketing push," says Herbert Meyers, who founded PPG with John McCain a year ago. "We saw the success of the R&D partnerships and thought there was a way to transfer the same financial advantages to marketing projects."

Like R&D limited partnerships for product development, PPG's investment vehicles will allow companies to finance new marketing efforts with interest-free capital from investors. In turn, the investors are offered a tax write-off on the loan, plus a relatively quick return on their investment once the efforts show signs of boosting sales.

PPG is sticking to investments in what they call "media-sensitive" consumer products, items traditionally marketed through costly radio, print, or film materials and advertisements. The firm is currently pooling investors for five new clients, including two consumer cosmetics companies.

In the case of Parker, Alexander, its PPG-backed direct-mail campaign increased its client base from 7,500 to 20,000 in six months. PPG investors have already received a percentage of resulting increased revenues. But they are not the only ones with a reason to smile. "It's thrilling," says Charlton Reynders, chairman of Parker, Alexander, "to leverage someone else's money."