Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

The art of feedback

Published in Nov-Dec 2016
How to make feedback the backbone of strong, creative work.
Photo: Online.
Photo: Online.

Many years ago, I worked with a pretty smart client servicing guy who always used to tell a client about to give feedback: “Don’t say what a brand manager would say. Say what your consumer might say while looking at this.”

Over the years, I have met clients and client service people who have been brilliant in the way they handle feedback to creatives – which has mostly resulted in strong work. Needless to say I have met the opposite too: where feedback becomes the seventh circle of hell that is akin to an afternoon bath in quicksand.

The goal of feedback, of course, should always be to make the work in question stronger. But the only way that can happen is to make the communication clear and precise between the agency and the client, focusing more on the specifics objectively rather than the generic subjectively.

How does one do that though? Here are some thoughts.

1. No feedback can be feedback too
A lot of times feedback is given simply for the reason that it is expected to be given. While it’s rare that a piece of work will make it through without any changes, it is also important to consider whether it needs a change, and if that change really does help make any difference. I have had the pleasure of working with clients who have trusted the agency to run work with minimal feedback, and have gone up on stage to pick up their trophies as a result.

2. Form a question instead of making a statement
Clients hire creatives because creatives are good at what they do. So it doesn’t make sense to tell them what to do. Every time a client has involved me in feedback by simply posing it as a question rather than a statement, the resulting communication has become stronger and more effective. Collaboration is powerful, dictation is not. So try “What do you think if we turned the giraffe upside down?” rather than “Turn the giraffe upside down.” You’d be surprised.

3. More emotion, less process
The ‘feedback ladder’ (when the process starts by handing the mike to the junior-most person in the room, then leading up the chain to the senior-most) is a remnant of the 1960s. It’s highly ineffective at times, given that the only feedback that will matter is the senior most person’s anyways, not to mention that it’s devastating for a junior person to not have ‘guessed’ what their senior would have said. A more productive way to do this is to make it more of an open discussion, which brings forth more emotion and collaboration. Huddle if you like, then involve the agency in that huddle too.

4. Remember the target
If you’re selling something to a much younger person, you need to be in their mindset to know what you are talking about. A client that talks in the “I” will often not remember that their target is different from them. The average consumer reacts to communication very differently than a marketeer does: they usually don’t give a toss about the strategy and the many charts behind the work. They will either like it or hate it based on its emotional content. And the more they like it, the more chances they will choose your brand.

5. Ask for feedback on your feedback
Feedback should never be treated as an end-all. Expecting to hear a disagreement in the spirit of collaboration (see point 2) is a much healthier approach.

6. Start positive, end positive
Approach feedback from the sense of constructive criticism, and with a more positive mindset, rather than focus on ‘what’s wrong’ with the work. Being more solution-oriented than being problem-focused is helpful.

Ultimately, the smoother the relationship between client and agency, the better the work will turn out. And the best way to keep that relationship intact and productive is to make sure that the discussion surrounding the work – especially the feedback – is enjoyed by all.

Ali Rez is Regional Creative Director for Middle East and Pakistan, Impact BBDO. alimumtaz@mac.com

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