Don’t Be Fooled by Awesome Spec Creative!

The average person can tell the difference between a beautiful sunset and a blasé one. Most would agree that the professional photographs we’ve seen of Yosemite are gorgeous. So, it seems that as human beings we have an eye for beauty. But there is a problem.

The problem manifests itself when we use that same eye (the one that tells us that an Ansel Adams photograph is awesome) to determine whether a direct mail piece is good or bad without considering the results it produces.

I’ve seen some agencies exploit this natural bent we humans have — and take advantage of a prospective client — by producing very attractive “spec creative” in order to win the business. How can you avoid falling prey to these tactics?

First, understand that as a fundraiser your primary responsibility is to generate maximum revenue (net revenue, of course) for your ministry. It’s not to produce the most attractive direct mail package possible. In fact, very often, the most ugly direct mail package wins! I know, we hate that when it happens, but it frequently does.

Second, put creative in its proper place by using the 40/40/20 Principle as your guide. This principle states that:

40% of your success is audience (segmentation in house file cultivation or list selection in acquisition).
40% of your success is the offer (what the donor’s gift will accomplish).
20% of your success is in the creative execution.

What this means is that 80% of your success is getting the right offer in front of the right person! And that will show up in results. Creative is important and can make a big difference. But if you focus only on creative and neglect audience and offer, you are ignoring two of the most important factors for fundraising success.

We have found that many agencies produce spec creative without an adequate strategic foundation behind it. Great creative starts with the audience and then presents the offer in a manner that will be appropriate and effective for that audience. When you unhitch spec creative from this strategic foundation, all you have left is a beauty contest.

Finally, the next time an agency provides you with any form of spec creative (even digital creative), ask to see the results from similar efforts. And ask how they apply the 40/40/20 Principle.