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As I’ve mentioned on my “About this Blog” page, I don’t write articles unless I have something to say. I know — that goes against the advice to post several articles per week. Who cares?

I’d rather provide something of value than simply generate words for the sake of words.

Speaking of value, a friend and I were discussing the fact that some freelancers complain that they have turned down projects because they “don’t challenge their creativity.”

I think these people are forgetting something.

Yes, we want to create compelling, persuasive marketing communications for our clients. And yes, we love it when we’re given lots of creative freedom.

But we have an even greater responsibility: to make our clients look good.

As one of my first copy supervisors told me long ago, “if you want to indulge your creative expression and please yourself, write a novel.”

And while I aim for perfection and superb creativity in everything I do, I never forget the real bottom line:
If my client looks like a rock star to his or her boss, I’ve done my job.

My clients know what it takes to make them look like rock stars, and my purpose is to help them achieve that status. If that means that sometimes I have to put my own creative ego aside, then that’s what it means.

I’m being paid to indulge my clients, not myself. Otherwise, I’d write a novel.

Maybe someday. When I have something useful to say.

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Underneath the plate: Porcelain — First of a two-part series about ceramics.

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When I write copy for clients, I want every word to be honest. If I say that a company responds within 24 hours, I want to know that it’s true. And if I write that a business is one of the best in my area, I need to know that they really are.

But sometimes, even the most diligent advertising creatives get taken in. Unfortunately, when we’ve been lied to, so have the people who read the marketing materials.

I recently wrote a website for a local contractor. My copy is on his website, in all of its glory. It says all sorts of glowing things about the builder, his reputation, his ability. And his trustworthiness.

But I never got paid. All I’ve gotten so far are promises.

And now, aside from the financial hit, I wonder if what I wrote about his company was true. Can he do the work promised? If he can’t pay for a website, how can he pay for lumber and other materials? And how can I, in good conscience, link his website to my samples page?

Unlike his sub-contractors, I can’t initiate a mechanic’s lien. But his drywall installers can. His plumbers can. His electricians can. And their actions may involve the homeowner.

I have learned the hard way to get a written contract – and money up-front!

Fortunately, this has never happened to me in all of the years I’ve been freelancing, but I will ensure that it never happens again.

But even more importantly, I hope you don’t learn the hard way, too. If you’re impressed with a company’s website, check and double-check their reputation. If you know who created their website, ask if they’ve been paid.

And if it involves a contractor, it’s even more important to do your homework so you won’t be the target of a mechanic’s lien. Because if the contractor isn’t paying those who work for him, you could end up in trouble.

Here are some links to helpful articles. Although the rules for mechanics liens vary state by state, these are good overviews of the situation:

How to Protect Against Mechanic’s Liens

If Your Contractor Doesn’t Pay the Sub-Contractors, You Can Find Them Coming After You

If you live in my area and would like to learn more, just drop me an email.

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Last in a series

We all know that children tend to show creativity – a trait that wanes as they get older.

As Robert J. Sternberg and Wendy Williams state in their book “How to Develop Student Creativity

“Creativity is as much an attitude toward life as a matter of ability. We routinely witness creativity in young children, but it is hard to find in older children and adults because their creative potential has been suppressed by a society that encourages intellectual conformity. We begin to suppress children’s natural creativity when we expect them to color within the lines in their coloring books.”

So what is it that makes young children such free thinkers?

I think it’s a relentless curiosity about the world.

What are the most common questions children ask, to the point of annoyance? “What?” “Why?” “How?”

Perhaps the suppression of creativity it isn’t intellectual conformity as much as simple annoyance with curiosity! But it’s that very inquisitiveness that, in my opinion, leads to creative leaps in every area of life.

Creative people want to know more – about everything.

Google is our favorite tool, because we can indulge our insatiable appetite for knowledge whenever the urge comes upon us. We hear a tune and remember a similar one that we heard in 1992 – and won’t rest until we listen to both songs to be sure that we’re correct. We read a thriller and come across a historical reference that we must investigate immediately.

Creative people can be as annoying as young children.

Our sense of curiosity trumps everything else. In the middle of a conversation we’ll hear a word that triggers an entirely different thread. In the middle of a power walk we’ll spot an ordinary moth and stop to examine it, leaving our walking partner frustrated. In the middle of dinner we’ll start doodling on the napkin, withdrawing completely from the debate about “American Idol.”  And in meetings we keep asking: “Why?” “How?” “What?” – even after everyone else considered that the issue was settled and it was time for lunch.

To nurture creativity, develop a sense of wonder.

Look around and simply begin to notice things. That’s something anyone can do. Become a nerd, a geek. Annoy your friends. Who cares? If an object or idea triggers your curiosity, go with it. Examine it. Learn about it. Think about how it’s similar or different from other objects or ideas. Soon, you’ll build up a library of what seems to be useless knowledge. But one day, you’ll call upon it and connect some dots – using your synthetic creativity. Test it against your analytic and practical creativity and you could come up with a winning idea!

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Second in a series

Why are some people more creative than others? Are they born that way, or have they simply learned certain techniques to help them come up with great new ideas?

Robert J. Sternberg and Todd Lubart developed the theory of creative investment, which claims that creative people “buy low and sell high” when it comes to ideas. In 1996, Sternberg teamed up with Wendy M. Williams to write the book “How to Develop Student Creativity,”, so he believes that creativity is more than a hard-wired trait. In fact, he considers it “as much an attitude toward life as a matter of ability.”

In addition, he believes that creativity is a choice. “Creativity, according to investment theory, is in large part a decision. The view of creativity as a decision suggests that creativity can be developed.

But how do we find that spark of creativity within us? How do we encourage it in others? And how do we nurture it until creative thinking becomes as natural as breathing?

Can we simply decide to become more creative, as Sternberg claims? Or is there some other personality trait that we need to develop before we leap into new frontiers?

Read the next article (better yet, subscribe) to find out more!

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First in a series

Creativity has been described in many ways. But the idea that creative people actually invest in ideas is an intriguing one. It was first posited in 1995 by Robert J. Sternberg and Todd Lubart

The “investment” theory of creativity states that a creative idea makes people uncomfortable at first, because the status quo is preferred. Many of our greatest literary works were originally panned because of the new ideas they presented.

Since a new creative idea doesn’t appear to have much worth, the creative has invested in it by “buying low.” He or she believes that the idea can be sold, and as people become engaged and persuaded, it is indeed “sold high.”

Three types of creativity contribute to the success of the creative investment.

Synthetic creativity is the ability to connect things that most people would not find similar, and to process ideas into something new.

Analytic creativity takes the creative’s wild and random thoughts, puts them together and tests them to see if they’re workable.

Practical creativity makes new ideas engaging and compelling to others.

In marketing, it’s easy to see how all three can, and should, work together:

Synthetic thinking begins when the new project is given out and brainstorming begins. Crazy verbal and visual connections are made, often to much silliness and laughter. Hopefully, everything is written down for the next phase.

Analytics kick in when the ideas are considered in more detail. Do they align with the marketing objectives? Do they reflect the brand image? Can they be produced within the budget?

Finally, practical thinking takes the ideas and puts them into the language of the target audience. The creative team then presents the ideas, showing why they’re better than what was done before.

Can creativity be taught? I believe so, and Sternberg and Williams agree. Read the next article (better yet, subscribe) to find out more!

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When I opened the “important letter” from my car dealer, I was shocked by an offer that sounded way too good to be true. They claimed that they were in “desperate need” of my car’s model and year. I know that this model is extremely popular and holds its value, so I became curious.

“We will pay you 100% of your car’s MSRP. That’s right – 100%!” the letter shouted in boldface.

The copy explained that even if I bought the car used, the dealer would pay 100% of the original MSRP. Oh, yeah, there was a throw-away sentence about overall condition and mileage. But my car, five years old, had significantly lower mileage than even the 12,000 per year allowed on typical lease agreements. And I had religiously maintained it at that same dealership. It’s in perfect condition.

I love my car, so I wasn’t really interested in trading it in. But I was curious. The MSRP was about $25,000 and I knew I wouldn’t get that much, because after all, it was a car dealer. I called and asked for more details. I asked them specifically: “You mean to tell me that you will put $25,000 toward a new car?” and they said “that’s what the letter says. Come in and we’ll look your car over. If it’s in good shape there should be no problem.”

So I went in. After all, I have a low-mileage, perfectly running vehicle. Even if they gave me $20,000 I might – just might – consider a trade-in. But it still sounded too good to be true.

The first thing they did was to require that I test-drive a new model before they would give me the “100% of MSRP” figure. I wanted to walk out then, but decided that since I had come all that way, I might as well go along with it.

After the test drive the salesperson sat me down and offered me $9,000. That’s about $10,000 less than I could get if I sold my car on my own (I checked before I went to the dealer). She explained that the mileage deduction was the reason.

I sat and stared at her. “I write these letters for a living,” I said. “And this one is totally deceiving. The ONLY way you would pay 100% of MSRP is if I drove a new car off the lot, turned around, and came back in. I got up and stormed out.

That dealer just lost a 16-year customer.

But I gained a new insight into what so many of us writers do. All the way home I asked myself: “Have I misled people in a similar way?” What is the dividing line between emphasizing an offer or benefit and making people think they’re getting something they aren’t?

There are ways to write persuasively without outright lying. That same offer could have been restated in a way that still encouraged people to come in for a test drive, without leaving them disappointed and angry.

It was a serious wake-up call for me, and I hope, for other writers and clients.

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