Ever felt the tension in a room when feedback is about to be given to the creative agency? These sessions often start with some nervous jokes, polite smiles and pleasantries about the weather. Looking down from the smiles you'll see white knuckled apprehension gripping the pens held by agency personnel (not too far away from the approved creative brief -if indeed there was one).  I've been in hundreds of these situations but happily :-) some clients did it better than others.  They were also, not coincidentally, the ones that managed to get amazing creative work, great results, won awards  and had a happy agency life they celebrated. It got me thinking - why isn't it always like this? 

What is it about the way these clients went about business that made agencies perform so well? When it came down to it - there was a some big ticket items these clients held. 

1. An appreciation for the creative process 
2. The desire to deliver great briefs  
3. Give great feedback.

I'll talk about the magic of great briefs another time because there is enough already written on that so lets talk about the often under-rated and underestimated quiet achiever of the three points above Creative Feedback.

First lets talk about WHAT NOT TO DO:

This film is a classic and captures what often happens with poor creative feedback and unfiltered committee decision making. (Hopefully you don't recognise it - but most people laugh along - cos they do.)

The 10 tips of getting it right.

1. Start with a clear creative brief.

The no-brainer. There's no short-cut here. Take responsibility for your expectations. Be clear and transparent about how you will evaluate the creative response, be open to discussion with your creative partners. If your brief has clear outcomes, a sharp understanding of your target audience, a relevant brand offer  and a differentiated tone of voice - that's a great place to start. Best of all it gives you a strong foundation for creative feedback. 

2. Smile. 

This is NOT brain surgery. More than ever these days your target audience  DEMANDS  inspiration, entertainment , humour and light relief from advertising communications. If you get too serious - you're gonna lose.

3. Know your target audience better than anyone else.

This will help you remember that the creative idea is not talking to you - your boss or your partner. It's likely aiming to influence someone completely different to you who is likely interrupted with messages, intercepted with unwanted offers and generally in info overload mode. Know what presses their hot buttons and important know how to remind your internal stakeholders of this when you re-present ideas internally. 

4.  Recognise the good first: Create a safe & positive environment

Its proven by neuroscientists that people perform better creatively when they don't experience 'fear' in the workplace. 

"The threat response is both mentally taxing and deadly to the productivity of a person - or of an organisation. Because this response uses up oxygen and glucose from the blood, they are diverted from other parts of the brain, including the working memory function which processes new information and ideas. This impairs analytical thinking, creative insight and problem solving, just when people most need their sophisticated mental capabilities, the brain's internal resources are taken away from them."

Managing with the Brain in Mind. David Rock. http://www.davidrock.net/files/ManagingWBrainInMind.pdf

In practical terms what does this mean? It means that it's time to serve a 'compliment' sandwich. Recognise the good without being gratuitous, observe where you think the brief has been met and then observe what you don't understand about the work and how it is/isn't meeting the brief. Which brings us to the next point.

5. Be a Juror not a Judge: Seek Understanding first.

Most of us will have an immediate emotional response to creative work. And we should. That's how we  make decisions about things. Emotions first - thinking later. So recognise this is whats happening to you but unless you are actually the target audience you need to move on quickly to seeking understanding. What this means is that rather than sitting in judgement - ask the agency to clarify how they are meeting the brief. 

 i.e. Can you explain how you think this is helping our target audience x, y, z? Where in the idea do we communicate x?

By asking the question you are creating an open environment and getting the agency to think constructively and analytically about their own work - rather than encouraging a defensive response. Often the agency is able to better understand where you are coming from  when its set up as a question. Better still, you are able to get a perspective from them you might not have considered - helping push the creative outcomes to a better place.

6.  Encourage Sharing throughout the creative process.

Often its easier for marketers to just want to see the 'creative result' than be part of the process. In my experience this is the least effective way of getting great work. By keeping an open and sharing relationship you can guide your creative partners by knowing your brand and target audience intimately and they can guide you with their knowledge of how ideas work. Remember your agency works with LOTS of other interesting clients and creative people and can help teach you a thing or two too. Sharing through the process eliminates nasty surprises, like things going over time, over budget not to mention the stress and grief. 

7.  Keep your boss(es) in the loop

Nothing undermines great creative work quicker than a boss who hasn't been kept in the loop. By following Point 6. you are able to manage the people internally with updates, mini -presentations and chances to seek their input and feedback. Its 101 I know - but you'd be surprised.

8. Be quick, be united. Don't let the momentum go.

You'll be top of mind in an agency and receive attention quicker, the quicker you respond to a creative presentation. The longer you take - the more attention is drawn to projects other than yours (that have probably been on hold while your job has been a focus ) and you really risk losing vital momentum and head-space of the creative teams involved. So make consolidated feedback a priority and put it in writing. 

- In the presentation:

  • Capture and articulate your initial observations /thoughts based on the brief in the meeting

  • Seek understanding and ask questions whilst in the meeting or shortly thereafter

- Post presentation:

  • Consolidated questions/feedback

  • Meet with agency within 24 hours to discuss

  • Confirm actions and outcomes in writing.

  • Seek understanding of timing and next steps.

9. Don't be a Creative Doctor

Resist the temptation to write the prescription to fix things. Provide feedback on the things you believe need to be addressed to adequately meet the brief - or - change the brief: But becoming the creative person on your own business is a bit like being your own psychologist. You'll end up going from bad to mad. (i.e. Talking to yourself). If you want to be constructive or if the agency really just aren't getting your point -  provide reference using imagery, other ads, or other examples to illustrate your point.

10. Enjoy!

Remember to think about the advertising and ideas that make you smile. Take your marketing hat off and think about the ads you remember from your past - before your marketing days. It'll help you remember that advertising and communication is about relationships and entertainment value - and that one piece of communication is not a universal panacea for your business - but great creative relationships built over time, can be.


Tania Farrelly

Tania is an independent Brand and Creative Strategist . She has worked with Nike, Cadbury, Tourism Victoria, Nestle, Bulla and many other brands in brand and advertising development,