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o succeed as a creative, one needs talent, for certain. But more important, one
needs mentors. Learning to be good at being a commercial creative—I define
that as being able to consistently deliver messages that work in the market-
place—is more like being an apprentice cabinetmaker than like studying to be
an architect. It employs a set of learned artisanal crafts, like knowing what to look for in the
grain of the wood, how the pieces should be joined together, and the way the work should
be sanded and finished.
While writing and selling were callings, I was lucky to find myself in direct marketing, a
specialized arena of creative, in which every ad, and virtually every tactic, can be tested and
measured. By using A/B splits in ads, or sending mail with isolated variables to controlled
groups of individuals, direct marketers discover which headlines, which colors, and which
offers create a greater response—and, most important, revenue. This is a critical distinction
from advertising, where “what works” is often poorly measured or subject to lack of clarity.
The customer rules—not research, not the client, not the creative director.
Very early in my career, I was exposed to sophisticated direct-mail marketing at a then-
famous company called Halbert’s. I learned the basics as well as the advanced psychological
strategies that make people respond. I learned to love mail as a medium and, in general,
the art and science of getting someone you don’t know to respond. The endgame remains
simple: Create a transaction. Persuade, convince, or cajole an individual to buy something
through the mail. It’s not as easy as it sounds. The tools are many: type of postage, format,
mail list, offer, response channel (phone, mail, or Internet), and pricing, and the variables are
almost infinite. But the biggest variable is the quality of the copy.
Creating a Response
BARRY KESSEL, Chief Executive Officer of RTCRM in Washington, D.C.
Barry Kessel is an acknowledged leader in direct marketing, with more than
thirty-five years of experience in client and agency organizations, in creative,
strategy, and executive leadership positions. In his current role, Kessel is respon-
sible for the RCT agency network, with headquarters in Washington, D.C. and
offices in New York and Chicago. RTC helps clients such as Time Warner, AARP,
Vanguard, Microsoft, and Abbott optimize relationships with prospects and cus-
tomers to maximize lifetime revenue. He was most recently global client officer
for Wunderman and president of Wunderman, New York.
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