Giving Creative Feedback

The power of creative messaging can’t be understated. It’s what makes a brand stand out, defines its voice and drives sales. Creativity is the magic that pushes a good brand to greatness. And while everyone wants their marketing messages to be great, too often they aren’t, because there are so many places the messaging can go wrong – from conceptual idea, to refinements that make it more relevant to the final execution.

One important place where it can go wrong is when stakeholders are giving creative people feedback. For those who aren't creatively-oriented, finding the middle ground between being too easy and too hard on creative can be a difficult proposition.         

Here are a few tips for giving creative feedback to your creative partners on the agency side that can help get to better work.

Creative Development Is Not a Rational Process
Don’t get me wrong, “not rational” doesn’t mean undisciplined. Creative feedback is a key part of the process and the best work has some sort of method or discipline behind it. Greatness isn’t random.

However, the ideas in front of you were developed by a human, and they are more than likely emotionally attached to something they spent plenty of time and effort on. While it’s important to share a gut reaction (since that can closely represent how a consumer will react), things like, “I hate this” or “this isn’t what I wanted” aren’t exactly a good place to base feedback on. It's the equivalent to telling a new parent that their baby looks like a little Winston Churchill, but without the cigar. (Which, they actually all do, but some things are best left unsaid).

Start your feedback with the work that has the most potential and what you like about it. It starts a positive conversation and sets up to the inevitable negative feedback. 

 Focus on What's Strategically Strongest
Your creative should be based on some sort of simple brief. Start with the work that’s on brief and filling your strategic needs, then go to other work that has potential, but might be off strategy. If it can be refined to get closer into the strategy without spoiling the conceptual idea, keep working in it, if not, kill it quickly and mercilessly.

Creative resources and time are finite. By focus on the best ideas and messages that fill a business need, you save time chasing an idea that won't help your business and gives the team time to make the good work great.

Direction IS NOT Feedback
Don’t direct creative people with specific changes to the work. This is creative direction and should be done by someone with creative skill. Give feedback on the objective you want to accomplish and why you feel what you’re seeing doesn’t do that. Then let your creative people solve the problem with their talent.

That said, it's OK to dislike copy or design for subjective reasons, but acknowledge they are subjective reasons. 

Some ideas you hate, your creative teams will love. Some you love won’t be their favorites. There’s no right or wrong here, so recognize the subjectivity. Discuss the merits of both over the brief, the potential to effect your audience and effect on the brand long-term.

Prepare Yourself to Be Amazed
Before reviewing creative work, toss out all notions of what you expect to see. We all bring some baggage into the creative process, and yours is to have an open mind while also applying the discipline required to manage a business and brand.

If you feel like there are ideas that should have been explored, ask if the teams explored them. You’ll usually hear a good rationale for why something might not work for the brand, and at the very least have a good conversation about what's right for the brand's personality. You'll also build a better working relationship with your creative partner, which pays dividends down the road.

Don’t Forget Production
Early on when talking about creative, discuss how it gets made. What you have from a production perspective should have been determined before briefing, but if it hasn’t, it’s better to align earlier on costs and resources rather than later. 

These discussions can effect how the work develops and gets revised. It also helps you understand the importance of key exceptional aspects of the idea as you sell the work into the organization or to a board.

Great work doesn’t have to be expensive, but some ideas need the right production value to be effective. Don’t try to create a million-dollar idea on a ten thousand dollar budget.

A Final Word
Be honest, clear and open to discussion. You won’t always agree, but to create a campaign takes partnership, and honesty and discussion is the best way to build a strong partnership and great work. You’ll find the best ideas tend to rise to the top when you're having a healthy and open discussion. The alignment will pay dividends, as it helps everyone become emotionally invested going into the final phase of creative development.