creative feedback

You want to work with writers and designers and photographers who are as strategic as they are creative. We talk a lot about the importance of thinking through strategy when we tackle any creative endeavor. But it’s also important for strategic communicators and project managers to understand the creative process and be able to provide meaningful creative feedback.

Why it matters

As a strategic marketing leader, you know the goals of the business, the roadmap for the product and the key metrics. You also know how to convey the essential information to your creative team — whether you have an in-house team or you utilize an agency. But do you really need to understand the creative process? I argue yes. And here’s the big reason why: You’ll be better able to convey what you need from your team, which means you’ll arrive at a final product you’re happy with … and faster. Plus, you’ll have a more realistic set of expectations for timelines and deliverables.

The process

Everybody tackles a project differently, of course. But regardless of the team you’re working with, you’ll find plenty of commonalities. Most communications professionals want time, for example, to process existing information and build a strategy/creative brief around the current project. They want time to brainstorm and provide concepts, time for research and SME interviews, time to draft copy, time for photo and video shoots, time for design and editing, time for proofreading, time for production and printing.

It’s critical to understand the various phases of a project and the different points at which you as a strategic leader need to be involved in reviews — and where your fellow business leaders should be brought into the process. Weighing in at the right times should help advance the project and limit revisions.

Giving feedback to creatives

Creatives often have a reputation for being a sensitive bunch. And sure, some creatives are more sensitive than others. But those of us who’ve left the worlds of fine art and poetry for the strategic world of marketing and advertising have probably developed a reasonably thick skin. It’s easy to get a little hurt when you pour your heart and soul into your work (which, frankly, a lot of us do), but we understand that our work exists in a business context and that it takes a team effort to bring it all together. We can (typically) take feedback.

But for the project to be successful, useful and constructive feedback is paramount. And if you’re able to provide good, useful feedback, you’ll be able to see a project evolve into what you need. Here are five tips for providing better feedback on creative projects.

1. Be specific.

Saying it’s “not working” for you is not particularly useful feedback. This is why writers and designers will ask you to drill down what specifically isn’t working. Do you hate the colors? The fonts? The headline? The size? Literally every single thing you see?

2. Use meaningful words.

Creatives often hear feedback like, “It just needs punched up” or “Can we push it?” That isn’t meaningful feedback, as it can mean different things to different people. Does “punching up” mean to shorten the sentences or add adjectives or make it funny? Which direction are we “pushing” things? The more specific you can be in your feedback, the better.

3. Give explanations.

It’s one thing to say you don’t like a particular color. It’s another when you tell your designer that it’s your competitor’s color. Or you don’t like using red because it’s the color of blood, and you don’t think that works well in a healthcare campaign. When you help your team understand your thinking, you give them information that’s useful for the next iteration of this piece — and for future projects too.

4. Give examples.

Maybe you find the writing “flowery” or think it “isn’t crisp.” This is a good start, but when you point out examples in the copy, that helps a writer understand exactly what’s bothering you and lets them ask questions to help zero in on the changes that need to be made.

5. Find a “translator” if you need one.

Some of us have a hard time recognizing what it is we don’t like. That’s when it can be helpful to bring in another voice to help you translate. When I was re-doing my own website, I wasn’t thrilled with the first design. But I didn’t know what was wrong with it — or what would make it better. I didn’t know how to give the team constructive feedback. I saw a benefit in bringing in a creative (publication-focused, which is why she wasn’t doing my site) designer to help me. When I showed her the design, I said, “It’s just … blah.” She was able to help me by asking questions about colors and textures and the use of imagery, and with her help, I was able to give the developers real feedback they could use — which indeed led to a revision that was dramatically improved.

Don’t expect perfection every time.

Over the years, I’ve worked with countless marketing executives, creative directors, agency leaders and editors. Every company has its own vibe and voice. Every individual has his or her own personal pet peeves. I can’t think of a creative professional — even the most brilliant ones I know — who are the perfect fit for every project and project leader. But in general, creative professionals can take useful feedback and salvage a project, continuing to improve with each version until you’re happy. But if your feedback isn’t clear and specific, this iterative process will take longer and cause more frustration for you and your creative team. Now, of course, if you’re giving clear direction and still not getting where you want to go, then it might be time for a reset; but before you fire everyone, consider how you’re giving your feedback and see if that gets you where you need to go.