The Yin and Yang of the Client/Creative Relationship
Last week I offered a few tips for those who participate in the process of vetting and approving fundraising copy.
Today, in an effort to balance my karma and avoid creative hubris, I want to remind all of us on the creative side of the PDF that putting out a direct-mail package or online communication that gets results is a two-way street.
To get what you and the client both want — big responses and high average gifts — you've got to collaborate. The problem is that sometimes, in the heat of our enthusiasm to create the most powerful package, we can get ahead of ourselves.
We're meticulous and careful to understand the donors' profiles and motivations. But let's also make sure we're focusing — really focusing — on the messages that differentiate this client from other organizations.
We might ask ourselves, for example:
- Am I listening? All the background research in the world isn't the same as living and working in an organization day in and day out. Make sure you're tuned in to what the client wants you to say. Then, your job is to communicate that message in the most profitable way.
- Am I territorial? Knowing what works is not always the same as knowing what's best. The occasional arm wrestling that arises between you and the client's program team, marcom department or whomever can get uncomfortable at times. But it's a good tension. If each of you respects the other's expertise, the final package will be as strong and persuasive as it can be.
- Am I explaining? You don't (or at least you shouldn't) have to give a lesson in the complexities and nuances of how certain words, phrases and images affect the people you're targeting. You're not teaching copywriting 101 or even 401. But you do need to offer solid rationale for the creative choices you make. Be clear and direct about why you think this is the best creative approach in this circumstance. And put it in writing.
- Am I accepting the limits of the client's brand, graphics and messaging standards? Yes, I know you're pushing the boundaries all the time. That's what good creative people do. But that doesn't mean just trying whatever you like. Orson Welles said, "The absence of limitations is the enemy of art." Working within the framework of your client's marketing standards, even when they chafe a bit, will help sharpen your creative.
As writers and artists, an advantage we bring to the table is that we spend all our work life reading, evaluating and creating based on fundraising principles that have been tested and proven. (That's principles, not ideas. In the idea department, we're as innovative as all get-out. Right?)
What the client brings to the table is that he or she knows the organization a lot better than we ever will. Not just its mission, but its culture. Who the program people are, and how they want to be represented. How the CEO thinks and speaks. How fundraising-savvy the communications department is. And a wealth of intangible information — above and beyond the fundraising essentials — that you need to accurately portray what they are all about.
Their knowledge. Your skill. It's a hard combination to beat.
Willis Turner believes great writing has the power to change minds, save lives, and make people want to dance and sing. Willis is the creative director at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He worked as a lead writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 15 years before making the switch to fundraising 20 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, and collateral communications materials that get attention, tell powerful stories and persuade people to take action or make a donation.