An Account Manager’s Perspective: How to Give Constructive Feedback
According to an ANA survey released in 2015, only 36 percent of agencies reported satisfaction with the creative approval process. A major finding in this study is the need for improved communication. Providing constructive creative feedback is a necessary tool for an agency to produce great work, just as essential as the creative brief. Here are seven steps an account manager can take in order to provide feedback that will foster inspiring creative content.
1. Let the Team Do Their Thing
Let the creative team go through their entire presentation and wait to give your feedback at the end. Don’t dive in with criticism (positive, negative, or neutral) before they’ve even had a chance to finish their presentation. This is where we employ the first thing we learn on the road to being account managers: take notes! My recommendation is to list the different executions or ideas that are presented and put your thoughts next to each one. These can be initial reactions so you remember what the content was and what you thought about it, then you can go back after the presentation and finalize your thoughts. This will help you build a summary of feedback on each element to give at the end of the presentation. It also allows feedback to be much more methodical and organized, rather than just shooting from the hip.
2. Order Is Important
Have junior team members start with their feedback first. This allows them the opportunity to practice critical thinking for giving feedback. As the account team provides feedback, move your way up the team ladder (from junior to senior). This provides junior team members a chance to learn from their superiors and see how their feedback matches up to the others, spot what they missed, and identify how they can improve. Don’t forget to let all team members know ahead of time that this is how feedback will be given during a meeting, so they can be prepared. In the end, practice makes perfect!
3. Lead With Positives
Any piece of work took time and effort, and it’s important to respect the skills and output of your creative team. Point out what is working well in the piece, what speaks to the audience, what strikes you as eye-catching or different, or simply acknowledge the time it took to put the finished product together. In doing so, you set the stage for a welcoming environment in which to provide your constructive feedback next.
4. Feedback Is Not Subjective
My number one rule to giving feedback: never use the words “like” and “don’t like”. Here’s something you won’t like to hear, but your personal opinion doesn’t matter. Disregarding personal taste will only make your feedback more credible and constructive. You are not the target audience, and even if you are somewhat representative of the target, you are far too close and familiar to the brand and the project at hand to be giving your personal preferences. You are someone much more powerful and insightful than a target consumer; you are the brand steward. Think of the creative idea through a consumer’s eyes, the brand’s goal, and the creative brief. Then give your feedback with supporting rationale based on those insightful lenses.
5. Offer Questions, Not Demands
Ask questions to lead thoughtful and strategic conversations about the work presented. Try to understand the creative team’s intent and the thought process that led to their undertaking. After the discussion, you may come to see the benefits of their recommendation. If you still think the product could be improved, then your feedback will be all the more meaningful because you’ll have a deep understanding for the other hand.
6. Don’t Rush to Solutions
Rather than barking orders and providing solutions, try expressing your feedback or concerns based on the brief, goals, or target audience. Then allow your creative team to do what they do best by working to find a creative solution. For example, instead of demanding, “Make the logo bigger and change all this red area to blue,” try presenting your concern such as, “I feel the branding is not prevalent enough and the piece might get lost in the clutter. Are there ways we could enhance the branding?” Then let the creative team figure out how to best approach your concern (creatively!).
7. Recap, Recap, Recap
Take notes and recap the feedback and next steps that came out of the meeting. If there are junior members on the team, have them practice this step as this will help them understand the key points and accept the responsibility of keeping everyone on the same page in the feedback process. Sending the recap to the team will ensure the feedback is captured and everyone is aware of who’s responsible for what next.
The above seven step process is specifically geared toward providing feedback on a creative piece, but it can just as easily be applied to sharing feedback on a media strategy or website build as well. The process could even be applied by a client giving creative feedback to an agency. Just remember to keep the conversation open and constructive, allowing you to push the bounds of creative excellence.