How to Evaluate Creative

I have a special fondness for creative types. Yes, with their highly “right-brained” (intuitive, non-linear, associative) dispositions, it can be a challenge getting them to meetings on time or keeping to deadlines. But life would be so boring without them, and advertising wouldn’t really exist at all. The most difficult moment for creatives is when, after weeks of self-torture, sleepless nights, and god knows how many gallons of coffee and other substances they’ve ingested, they present their work to you. Here are 10 helpful tips for evaluating creative in a way that may bring you better results and make you some friends along the way.

1. Make sure you’ve provided a thoughtful, focused and insightful Creative Brief. Without this, you don’t have the right to demand good work.

2. Review the brief, or at least have it handy, when you’re being presented with creative work. Reference the insight in it if necessary, without religiously adhering to the document.

3. Let the work speak for itself – and breathe a bit – without long explanations and rationales from the creatives. I’ve had the pleasure of working with teams that are very talented and use few words to present the work. They know that we, the marketers, won’t be around to magically explain our choices to consumers.

4. If some of the work you’re presented with is not exactly on brief, withhold your judgment and give the work a chance. Sometimes the best work is a bit off-brief, and any creative team worth their salt will stretch and challenge your assumptions. That said, you have a right to expect a certain number of ideas that accurately express the brief.

5. Look for ideas that have that eerily “memetic” quality – like it’s deeply familiar without being derivative, and it sticks in your mind and won’t let go.

6. Look for what’s truly “campaignable” – meaning, a concept that is compelling in multiple channels/media and where you can imagine a nearly endless series of executions. A gift that keeps on giving.

7. Refrain from applying the feasibility or “can I get this approved by my clients/powers that be?” filter until you’ve narrowed the set down to what’s on brief, memetic and/or highly campaignable.

8. Once you’ve gotten down to the best candidates, then begin the process of considering how you’ll get the work approved and what the financial and time considerations are for each one. If need be, you may need to ask the creative team to come up with additional ideas that are a bit more feasible.

9. Resist the temptation to “test” the work thru quant or qual research. Consumers have a hard time evaluating creative out of context – and will often behave quite differently once it’s in market. Many a good campaign (and big budget movie) was ruined because creative work was put through the wringer of testing.

10. Find specific things to thank and praise your creative team for. They likely worked hard and suffered a bit to develop the work for you, and deserve your encouragement and respect.