Creative or Effective? You Decide

Very early in my working life, I was involved in advertising sales for a radio station.  Probably because I was pretty much a “blank slate” back then, I remember the first advertising seminar I attended like it was yesterday.

People who know me well, might smile (or roll their eyes) when I’ll repeat a sales or marketing principle I learned decades ago.  They are “on to me.”

At the first seminar, I learned, “Be effective, not just creative.”  Evidently, this was a real problem in the advertising world back then, and today as well.

The workshop leader mentioned the high percentage (I seem to recall it being 70%) of award-winning advertising considered a business failure by the companies behind it. In other words, an ad campaign created to increase sales or awareness, didn’t. It was attention-getting and lovely and won all sorts of awards, but it didn’t accomplish the goal for which it was intended.

The workshop leader asserted awards should only be given to ads which worked.

Still, ad agencies wanted the trophies, so they focused on creative instead of effective. Nothing like awards to deflect attention from a goal.

I recall the workshop leader giving examples of highly-effective advertising which was not exactly creative and certainly not award-winning, unless the creator of the ad coveted a tongue-in-cheek award by a group poking fun at poorly done ads.

But the ad worked and generated increased sales, so we needed to decide which path was more desired.

Today we explore this “creative versus effective” tension. One does not necessarily lead to the other and the two can be mutually exclusive, not always, but often enough to ask the question which side you would rather be on.

Creative vs. Effective: The Book Pitch

Frequently, I receive a book proposal from an aspiring author which confuses me. What did they want from me? Are they looking for a mentor? Endorser? Friend?

I assume there are people advising aspiring authors to use the cover letter to “spin a tale” in an attempt to catch the attention of an agent, but maybe start the creativity in the second paragraph?

Dear Mr. Balow,

You and I will change the world together. My book will make the crooked paths straight and bring joy to all who are part of it.

That’s flattering, but I am already married.

Or how about this:

 Oh Dan,

Death. Pestilence. Flies on corpses. War is the canvas on which evil writes his tale of woe…

What if I just finished lunch?

Maybe instead, make the cover letter an actual personal letter? (Now there’s a thought) Maybe even professional?

Dear Dan,

I enjoy all the bloggers on your agency website and have read them for months. After reviewing your profile as an agent, I feel you would represent my work well.  Here’s why…

Creative vs. Effective: The Book Itself

Many years ago, I recall a successful author speaking about their many books at a sales conference saying, “You know, it’s funny. The books I’ve written which have sold the most were not my best work. Those for which I was most excited, haven’t sold well at all.”

They paused, then said, “I think my new book is my best work ever.”

A tumbleweed blew through the meeting room and crickets chirped in the background. A vulture circled overhead.

Creative vs. Effective: Book Marketing

Every author would love to have a highly creative marketing plan for their book.

Or would they?

Wouldn’t you rather see a plan which sells a lot of books? Even if it weren’t particularly creative?

Sometimes (not always) an author might desire marketing plans filled with things no one has ever tried, but if pressed, would rather just sell more books. Often, the most effective business marketing strategies are relatively boring.

Do you want to be creative or sell books? Often, the two are not in the same plan. But it is nice when they are.

It’s about balance. Be creative and effective. Make a point and make it stick by the manner in which you present it. Usually, the best recipe has a nice combination of each ingredient.


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