“S-E-L-L” is Not a Four-Letter Word

Well, SELL, like, literally is, by the law of the letter, four letters long, but figuratively, it’s just the opposite. In my mind, “like” has become a four-letter word, but that is a rant for a different article.

Brands need our help to sell their stuff, whether it’s a subtle fragrance or rough and tumble pick-up truck. The definition of advertising is clear on this: advertising - to call attention to or make publicity for; try to sell.

It’s only a dirty word if you’re not providing value and creative solutions for your client who wants to sell their stuff. That’s what we do. We give them something – creative solutions and executions, that they’re unable to come up with themselves. Or, even worse, if it is something they believe they can do for themselves, and they are doing it terribly.

Our work can be a soft sell or a hard sell… just so it sells. It needs to stand out, to touch… to reach out and touch someone. Remember that one? It sold people. It was created in 1979 for AT&T. Its goals were to soften AT&T’s corporate giant image while selling the long-distance phone service.

The client didn’t like “reach out and touch”. They wanted to go with, “Keep in contact, America.” Luckily, better taste was defended and ultimately prevailed. This is proof positive that yes, our clients definitely need us

But realize this - selling fresh creative work to clients is not easy. It is not what they expect. Brands want to stand out and be different, yet, when they are presented with the unexpected, they are caught off-guard, and often feel put on the spot. Cut them some slack - deciding on a new creative direction for their brand is a big responsibility.

This is the time to engage your client with empathy. Don’t expect them to love your baby the way you do. You’ve lived through the contractions of birthing this idea. Your baby may be beautiful to you, but she just spit up on your client when they first laid eyes on it.

This is true with any new creative endeavor. When a unique new song is released, listeners do not initially like it. It takes multiple exposures for people to accept it and eventually become fans of it.

Give your client some ammunition to sell your creative internally. Share some research that backs up your idea. Provide something concrete for them to stand on while they digest something magical that they should grasp. Statistics are soothing, reassuring. They can be about trends in the industry or what resonates with your target demographic in other areas of their lives.

Don’t dread this confrontation. Expect it. Look forward to it as a true opportunity to make a difference in their world. It is also a chance for you to share something you truly believe in. Besides, the world needs your bold, new ideas. 

You know who else needs us to sell? The end user. In this information age, people have become kamikaze pilots of the Internet. They bombard themselves with way too much information, overloading their own circuits. They don’t know which way to turn. “Just Google it” sounds too good to be true. Too often, searches end in fiery crashes when the bewildered searchers have so much data that they freeze up.

Through fresh ideas, eye-catching and functional design, we can help them disseminate information and gain knowledge about a potential product or service solution that they never could have found without our help.

Sold out is one of the best compliments you could say if you’re a business owner, a retailer or a performing artist putting on a concert or a show. And that’s what we really are… performing artists. It is our job to make our art to perform for our clients.

We don’t create to impress. Our work must engage, reach, and connect in order for it to be effective. Selling for our clients with taste, flair and respect for the intelligence of the audience is our very purpose. Thus, we are the ultimate sell-outs… and we should be damn proud of it. I just used a four-letter word in defense of a four-letter word – so there.

 Be sell-fish. Sell like your agency’s life depends on it… because it does.   


Jack co-founded Henke & Associates, Inc. in 1987 with his father Bill Henke, in Cedarburg, WI. Henke is a longtime Second Wind member.

He delivers senior-level strategic and top-level creative direction for clients in many different industries. A strong conceptional thinker, Jack is experienced in every phase of the strategic and creative process. This entails everything from branding, leading the strategic marketing planning process, concept, writing, development, preproduction, talent-casting, audio, and video producing, directing and editing through final copy for video, broadcast, print, social and digital media.

Jack has earned national awards for writing, producing, and directing radio commercials.

In addition, Jack is a published author, content creator for clients and is a longtime local columnist in the News Graphic, where he has established himself as a leading local humorist with a keen eye for his insights and perspectives about what makes Cedarburg such a unique place.  He also hosts “The Jack Henke Show” podcast.


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