I suggest that anyone in direct marketing -- or anyone responsible for marketing dollars -- should appreciate making the DM creative process a friendly and highly competitive "wagering" experience. If it feels too "personal," I'd say you're on the right track to more accountable and successful DM.
But way too often, I don't find many agencies willing to participate in that healthy combination of self-confidence and willingness to lose for the client's gain.
Here's an example from my past (with an energy company). Our agency of record was doing all of the brand/image/broadcast work, but I was producing all of the DM (doing my own writing and working with a freelance designer). I needed to run a sample offer for FREE CFL lightbulbs to get an initial indication of market response for a new program -- a good opportunity to let the agency do a small DM project while bidding on a contract for a much larger energy-efficiency campaign being launced.So I asked them to submit creative for a self mailer, and I received a concept that had nothing more than a combination ice-cream cone/CFL lightbulb graphic on the outer cover, with no branding, and no copy. The creative team insisted that this provocative treatment could not be resisted, and the reader would open the mailer.
My reaction: "Okay. We'll run that against the control."
Agency: "Control? What control?"
My response: "The straight message that I'm producing internally, with copy that simply offers two CFLs for returning the attached BRC, and showing an image of two bulbs."
Agency: Not happy.
The agency pulled the ice-cream-cone concept, and submitted another concept of copy asking if the prospect is interested in reducing their energy bill. Result? It was fairly close, but my execution (at a small fraction of the agency cost) out-pulled the agency execution by 4%, with an overall average of about 34% response.
My point? There should be different opinions in DM creative execution. And the people with those different opinions should be enthusiastically competitive and open to saying, I think mine will work better. More specifically, I suggest that internal folks (on client side), should always put together a vanilla package to run against the agency package. It's good for internal moral, and I think it's a good test of an agency; if they're not open to it ... why not?
Additionally, I like to encourage all campaign participants (agency and client) to make friendly bets about the outcome of a DM campaign. For example, what will the response rate be? Everybody should take a guess, and put something fun on the line. (I had a former boss who really got into the wagering, and offered a free vacation day to the closest guess on response rate.) Know what happens as a result? Talk. Study. Discussion. Learning. And then what? Improvement. That's what DM is all about, isn't it? Accountability and improvement in the spending of marketing dollars?