How to be a Great Client—Part 6: Providing Feedback on Creative

Imagine that you’ve briefed your agency well, and now they’ve come back to present their creative ideas to you. So they arrive with their foam core boards and laptops, dressed a little more formally than usual (an extra scarf here or there, snappier shoes perhaps), with a palpable air of anticipation entering the room.

They start with a story and a review of the creative brief (one would hope), and then the work unfolds, usually sequenced to have the most dramatic effect. Sometimes they’ll start with the most conservative option and then move on to one or two others that increasingly stretch your imagination. Or perhaps they start with the most daring ideas first, just to blow your mind wide open at the outset.

Regardless, you pay close attention and take notes as you follow along, sometimes providing comments. The agency is paying close attention to your body language and the little sounds you make—a gasp of surprise, a murmur of pleasure, a “hmmm” that indicates you’re puzzled.

Once the presentation is finished, the agency will then open the floor for you to make comprehensive comments. This is a pivotal moment, and while there’s no formula for providing feedback, as each client and project are unique, here are some general principles that may help you make the work (and the relationship) even stronger.

1.      Always refer back to the brief

The creative brief (supported by your brand strategy) is the one common basis the members of your team and the agency team have for evaluating creative. Referring back to it and framing your comments with the brief is an effective way to keep things focused and avoid a conversation that’s merely based on personal opinion.

2.      Effective vs. “like”

Avoid talking about what you “like” and focus more on what, based on your brief and your good instincts, you believe will be effective in achieving your objectives. In fact, what a good creative brief should do is to give you insight and empathy into what triggers or levers might move your audience to take the action or adopt the perception you’re looking for. So evaluating creative from the standpoint of what will be effective with your chosen audience(s) is the best way to give feedback.

3.      Strategic feedback vs. art directing

While it’s important that your feedback be specific enough to be put into action, you want the agency to do the work of figuring out how to revise the copy or make design changes, without your having to art direct. Clients who start to rewrite copy and make specific art direction changes can sometimes de-motivate agency teams. Know that a good agency team is well-trained in their disciplines and are inherent problem solvers. Pose the challenge in clear terms (such as “I’m not sure this ad projects the kind of image that’s articulated in the brief” or “I’d like to see headlines that are more arresting and confident”) and then let the agency figure out the specifics. As well, it may be beneficial to create an atmosphere where it’s safe and encouraged for the client and agency teams to have an open discussion of ideas and challenge each other respectfully and collegially, versus just having the agency blindly follow orders. At the end of the day, most smart clients really do want an agency that has a point of view.

4.      Actionable and motivating

The morale of your agency team is greatly affected by the manner and content of your feedback. They naturally want to please you or help you achieve your goals, so providing feedback in a way that’s not only clear, but motivates the team to take further action or work even harder—is the way to go. Rarely does an agency nail the entire creative mandate on the first try—it usually takes a few iterations. So you want that team to know exactly what direction to go in and to know that they have your encouragement and support.

One more thing: With small, tight client teams, the majority of feedback can happen right in the room and be captured in the contact report by the account team. But in most cases, there are other colleagues and stakeholders that need to see the work and comment. So best that the client team agree to gather and consolidate feedback into an email, which should be delivered a day or two after the presentation. You may also want to ask the agency to actually make an additional presentation or two to your colleagues, so everyone has the benefit of the full presentation. Any decent agency should be good at presenting creative, and will be happy to help you share the work directly with your colleagues.

Above all, and I have to be very direct here: Do not walk around the office with the presentation on your laptop, gathering feedback in hallways. Ive seen clients do this and inadvertently kill or misrepresent good work this way. Let us (your agency) show off the work in a proper setting, with the proper context.