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Make the copywriter telepathic with an away day

If agencies want to understand the client's customers, what about putting the creatives on the phone at the client's call centre, writes John Watson, founding partner of Watson Phillips Norman.

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Creative passion is the winning formula for direct marketing and there's precious little of it around, so why not get your creatives to spend some time at the client's call centre to really understand the consumer and use this as a springboard?

I have been as guilty as most of talking about the "rules" involved in creating successful direct marketing. And before you get too excited that I might be abandoning them, the fact is that "rules are rules", and woe betide those who dare to break them.

But can I let you in on a secret? None of the numerous rules make any difference to the results if you have put no passion into the piece.

Fewer than half a dozen people in the direct marketing industry would appreciate this point, yet it is fundamental. Passion -- the sort of stuff that makes the paper smoke and the hairs on the back of your neck rise when you read it -- is what actually makes the difference.

The problem is getting hold of it and it seems that there is precious little of it about currently.

If modesty permits me to mention it, WPN did a mailing recently that raised a huge sum -- from a simple letter. The passion of the writer shone through, but this was for an organisation that makes a real difference to people's lives; how do you get passion into more mundane subjects?

It is hard, but by no means impossible. One of the best ways is to get the creative people (copywriters certainly, art directors could be excused) down to the call centre and stick a headset on them so they can actually listen to the real world.

Get the creatives to answer some calls themselves. What for your purposes may be just a product represents to the customer a significant purchasing decision, involving a great deal of their money, and over which they will frequently want to discuss many of the finer points in some detail.

However dull the product may be, half an hour at the call centre will prove that it really is important to the customer. And once it becomes important, even creative people will start to take it seriously.

Admittedly, you may well end up becoming a bit of a sad bastard, because you are required to get truly passionate about china figurines, book clubs or home insurance plans, but at least you will be a rich one.

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