One of the greatest challenges I’ve had to manage, both as a writer and creative director, is getting solid, clear feedback from clients. Keywords there: solid and clear. CDs always have to be prepared to push back on bad creative ideas. If the idea isn’t solid, I’ll tell you. But, being clear, that’s a whole other crate of bananas.
It sounds benign, but lack of clarity impacts timing and budgets. It also leads to endless churn. “No, that’s not what I meant…I wanted it this way.” And round and round we go.
Don’t get me wrong, some clients understand how to give feedback without crushing the creative process. But, many struggle to communicate their ask, ideas or to provide clear input if a deliverable doesn’t meet expectations.
Setting the stage for constructive feedback
Giving great feedback is an art in itself. It’s not always easy. That’s why we take time, at the start of every new engagement, to lay a strategic messaging foundation that sets us up for a successful feedback loop. We also ensure goals and deliverables are crystal clear before moving into execution.
Despite our best efforts, we run into feedback challenges. So let's set the tone for how to provide effective feedback that results in work everyone loves.
Here are four tactics to help you step up your feedback game.
1. Provide clear direction upfront. Expect questions.
I recently heard a story about an agency eating $250K for a misunderstanding on what the client actually wanted. That’s criminal. How could something go so far off the rails? I’ll tell you: Someone didn’t provide information and someone else didn’t ask the right questions.
We always try to ask the right questions, but it’s a two-way street. If you feel something is critical to your project, speak up. Share your ideas. Convey your expectations and you’re more likely to be delighted.
2. Don’t fix it yourself.
The most common issue I see is clients attempting to fix the issues themselves. As if they don’t have better things to do.
Creative teams are trained to take direction, even if they don’t like it. It’s never the client’s responsibility. Yet, I’ve seen well-meaning executives, managers and everyone in between attempt to rewrite copy or sketch out how they want a design revised. With copy, they integrate grammatical mistakes, structural errors and word redundancy – all issues the trained eye can spot from a mile away.
So I ask this: Would you do the same thing to a surgeon? What about an astronaut? Would you attempt to fix their problems? Probably not. I’m not suggesting that writing or design is rocket science or life and death. But, it takes years of training and practice to be efficient, effective and compelling at the job.
Let your creative and marketing teams serve you. If they continue to fail to meet your expectations, you either have the wrong team on the job or you’ve failed to clearly communicate the need. Find a new agency partner or go back to step No. 1.
3. Be thoughtful and objective.
Read through a written document top to bottom. Or, if you’re looking at a designed piece, read and observe the visuals working with the copy. As you do, take note of words, ideas or visuals that aren’t sitting right with you – or what does feel on-point. Don’t judge. Just observe.
Then go back and ask yourself: Do I not like this for personal reasons (for instance, I don’t like the word “slacks” – personal preference) or do I have issues because it doesn’t connect with the strategy? It’s okay to ask for other word choices. Or to say, this visual doesn’t work, I’d like to see something more like this, because that feels right for the brand.
Document your ideas based on an agreed upon method. And we’re off to the races. It may take another draft, but recognize it does take time and collaboration.
4. Remember: Be nice!
If you can’t be constructive in your critique, it might be time to take a deep breath. Too often in the hustle and bustle of the day, we try to take on tasks at the wrong time. When reviewing creative or strategic ideas, make sure you have the bandwidth to provide efficient feedback that pushes the work forward.
This all adds up to: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Just say, this word isn’t working. Or, this program doesn’t seem like it will make an impact. Or ask some questions about why we think it will work. Put the ball in our court.
Because at the end of the day, what really doesn’t work is not providing the right input or feedback. Or to take on someone else's job at your own expense. Take the time. Think it through. Share your thoughts, constructively. When this happens, we'll make magic together.
About the Author
Julie Jones is the Vice President of Communications Strategy at Muse. With over 15 years of experience as an award-winning creative director and copywriter at leading advertising agencies, she has delivered powerful brand and content marketing strategies to a diverse portfolio of clients in the health care, manufacturing, technology and consumer products industries. Some of her most notable clients include University Hospitals, Legacy Health System, GE Lighting, Ferro Corporation, Arconic and Cub Cadet.