This is a tricky statement. I used it in a previous post, in a quote by the musician Patrice Rushen, in her keynote talk at Berklee Valencia, who was in turn quoting someone else. At first blush, the assertion makes sense (in fact, it’s so catchy, that in and of itself it’s a good marketing statement): without a craft that you the creator has worked at consistently and well and in which you are giving your all, without a quality product, no amount of marketing will get you or your product/creation known, distributed, sold. However, even Ms Rushen contradicts herself when she tells the story of how her 1980s song “Forget me nots” hit the charts–despite being signed up with Elektra records, had she and her partner not decided to invest their savings in independent promotion (ie, getting their song slotted in on the radio repeatedly), it would have not gotten the traction that pushed it to the top of the charts. Sometimes, necessarily, marketing trumps mastery. No matter how talented you are, no matter tight your content (whether it be a film, a song or a book), without the right promotion, to the right audience, at the right moment, your product is dead in the water.
As an illustration of this, as shown in the beautiful film Searching for Sugarman, the flip side of the above story is what happened to Sixto Rodríguez‘s album Cold Fact when it was published in 1970 by Sussex Records. Little to no promotion, minimal distribution, and, in North America, both the artist and the record disappeared into the ether. Except, as the film shows, in South Africa. But that’s another story. The point is, had Rodriguez be advised to something similar to what Ms Rushen did, or had he had the opportunity to have someone help him with an alternative form of promotion (never mind, had the Internet been in use then), his story might have been quite different.
Yes, it is essential to be a master of your craft, it is fundamental that your content reveal talent, touch those who watch, listen to, or read your product, but equally important is that you have a marketing/promotion/outreach action or campaign, whether done by you or by your distributor or with the help of an agency. Mastery + marketing = success.