Tag Archive: feedback

How to give Feedback to an Agency so the work gets Better

As our Ad Agency friends are partying it up in Cannes, I figured its perfect timing to talk about How to give Feedback to an Agency so the work gets better.   It’s funny how bad clients under-estimate the impact they have on the advertising work and yet good clients get it.  There’s this weird contradictory circle:  a) clients hire agencies based on work they do for other clients–many times better clients b) great agencies still make bad work–which highlights that good clients help make good work and c) the client is ALWAYS right, which means if you tell an agency to do something, they will.  If we put all three of those together.  

How they show up does more to make or break an ad than even how the agency shows up.   After all, the Brand Leader gets the “final say” on every aspect of the ad–brief, script, director, casting, music, budget and final edit.  The agency can only recommend.  What the Brand Leader does with that “final say” can make or break the ad.  

If you knew that how you show up to your agency got better work for you, do you think you would show up differently?

In terms of giving feedback at that first creative meeting, a Brand Leader can really only do three things.

    1. Approve an ad
    2. Reject an Ad
    3. Give direction on how to make the Ad better 

 If you’re sitting in the hot seat, how will you know?  It’s not easy to sit in the hot seat as the decision maker.  I’ve seen some Brand Leaders use all instinct, and no fundamentals.  They miss the most basic of things.  While other Brand Leaders strictly use fundamentals and forget to use their instincts.  They miss the magic or are the first to put together a Frankenstein from various things on the brief.

Before You Get Started:  How will you Judge the Ad?  Here are the ABC’S of Advertising 

Here’s a potential tool you can take into the room that is very easy to follow along.  You want to make sure that your ad delivers on the ABC’S which means it attracts  Attention, it’s about the Brand, it Communicates the brand story and Sticks in the consumers mind.  

  • Attention:  You have to get noticed in a crowded world of advertising.  Consumers see 6000 ads per day, and will likely only engage in a few.  If your brand doesn’t draw attention naturally, then you’ll have to force it into the limelight.
  • Branding:  Ads that tell the story of the relationship between the consumer and the brand will link best.  Even more powerful are ads that are from the consumers view of the brand.  It’s not how much branding there is, but how close the brand fits to the climax of the ad.
  • Communication:  Tapping into the truths of the consumer and the brand, helps you to tell the brand’s life story. Keep your story easy to understand. Communication is not just about what you say, but how you say it—because that says just as much.
  • Stickiness:  Sticky ads help to build a consistent brand/consumer experience over time.   In the end, brands are really about “consistency” of the promise you want to own.  Brands have exist in the minds of the consumer. Slide1
How to use Feedback to make the Work Better

I’ve seen guys go in with pure instincts and spin around in circles.   My suggestion would be to use your instincts but be guided by a process that can help you judge the work.  Look at sports as a metaphor, there’s instinct used in every sport, but the superstars of any sport (Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps) are disciplined in their approach and then let instincts go on top of the fundamentals.   So use the ABC’S above, and then let your instincts take over.

The Creative Meeting is not Easy.  You’ve got to balance, the head, the heart and the gut against the good of the brand.  Take your time and sort it through asking the following questions:

  1. Do you love what it can do for your brand?  If you don’t love it, how do you expect your consumer to love it?  A great ad has to have everyone’s heart and soul put into it.  If you “sorta like” it, then it will be “sorta ok” in the end.  If you love it, you will fight for it.  (The Heart) 
  2. Is it on strategy?  Is the Advertisement an expression of what you have been writing in your strategy documents?   Is it doing what we hoped it would do?  I love the ABCS technique (outlined below) because it helps me to frame things in my mind, so I can evaluate it past how I feel.  I think you need something to ground yourself.  (The Head)  If  there is something in your gut says it’s off, it likely is.  (The Gut)
  3. Is it long-term Idea?  Is a big enough idea that fits with the brand, does the hard work you want to do for the brand and can last 5 years.  Think about leaving a legacy—which forces you to think of campaign-ability.  (The Brand)  Look at the Creative Brief and if the ad is not on strategy, then it has to be rejected   Advertising is an expression of strategy.  If it’s not on strategy, it has no value.  

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Tips on Giving Feedback
  •  Remember to Relax and Smile:  I always find that the room gets so tense, stiff and serious: we forget to laugh, smile and be real. Imagine trying to present something funny to a room of deadly serious brand managers.  It helps motivate a nervous creative team. 
  • Give  the feedback in three ways:  a) First Impressions: during the presentation, it’s great to be engaged enough to say “I like that” or ask a question. b) Giving Direction: focus on what‘s working and how to make it better. Focus more on the board you like first, and then move to the ones you don’t like with less detailed feedback.   c) Leave the Detailed Direction on how to make it better for the day after.  Moving the details (copy points, placement, colours) to the next day, helps focus the immediate comments on big picture items.  Take 24 hours to digest all the little details
  • Focus on Direction, not feedback:  Feedback is static, direction has action and decision-making.  Speak on behalf of your consumer & your brand. 

You should agree upon a Feedback process with the Agency ahead of time and then use that consistently.  There are two main ways you could do it. Either give the feedback live where everyone talks or take a break and consolidate your thinking first..  I’ve done both, trained on giving feedback live, but have changed my opinion over the years and now I’m a fan of taking the break.   

Here’s the old tired Archaic 1950s style processes:
  1. Account Team re-reads the brief then they do a set up of each board, explaining the technique/process (e.g. this is funny)  Set ups can taint the client’s view of a spot. 
  2. Agency presents 3 scripts, and says which one is their favourite.  Potentially de-motivator if you ask for their favourite and then dismiss it.  A better question is “which spot did you find you kept coming back to, as you worked the process”.
  3. Client Feedback is given with the most junior person goes first, all the way up to the senior person in the room.  This feels very 1950s humiliation and de-motivating to the junior people on the team. 
I’d suggest you Take A 30-Minute client huddle helps because:
  1. Agency gets one piece of feedback.  Time allows client to get the story straight. The break helps to slow down process so the client can think things through.  
  2. Gives Ownership to the Brand Manager, who should do all the speaking on behalf of the team, not the most senior person in the room that over-rules them.
  3. Client Team has a very open discussion, freely hearing out everyone’s thoughts, giving the junior people easier input the final opinion.  Brand Manager hears everyone then consolidates it to one message.
Tips to help Clients provide Clear Decision Making Process in place
  • Decision Making: Team leader in the creative meeting room gives direction to make the work as good as it can be before selling it in.   This gives them ownership over the project. maximum to get it right.  When the VP or President attend the early creative meetings, the work doesn’t get better, it gets more complicated. 
  • Pre Testing Does Help:  Narrow the creative concepts down to 1-3, put into animatic format and test to determine success potential in the market.  Instincts are great, but having them confirmed by consumer feedback is even better.   
  • Selling the work in to the Organization.   The team leader accompanied by the senior account person (plus Creative Director if needed) should jointly sell it in the organization. 
  • Make sure you leave Enough Time:  While everything is a rush these days, a well run project, with adequate breathing space for creative ideas, 2-3 rounds of creative, potential testing and adequate time for development
  • Communication Goes Both Ways:  Exhibit the leadership style that welcomes feedback, and gives it.  Each side brings an expertise, the agency has advertising and communication expertise and the client brings consumer/brand expertise.
  • Seek Advice Beyond Advertising:   Good account people know what it takes to be a good marketer.   They can help you on the side.  And many times, their superior people skills can help a client that might be lacking in that area.   They also likely know how to sell to your boss, which can help you when you need to sell to your boss. 
  • Build a relationship with the Creative Team:  The creative teams want to engage with the client and will respect your attempts to get closer to them.   Like anyone, they will do a better job for those they know, respect and even admire.  Being the best client, will attract the best creative people on a given team.  They’ll want to work on your brand. 
  • Performance Improvements: Annual agency performance review, quarterly senior leadership discussion on what’s working/what’s not.  Ask “how can we get better?”, “how are my people doing?” and “how is the work?”. You can talk about the gaps you or your team might have, and ask for advice how to close those.
  • Let the Agency Make a Profit:  You can’t “nickel and dime” your agency.   Be open about your budget, but once set, let the agency work to that budget. 
If how you show up to the agency will produce better advertising work.  Then show up right. 

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  1. How to Write a Creative Brief.  The creative brief really comes out of two sources, the brand positioning statement and the advertising strategy that should come from the brand plan.  To read how to write a Creative Brief, click on this hyperlink:  How to Write a Creative Brief
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  3. Turning Brand Love into Power and Profits:  The positioning statement sets up the promise that kick starts the connection between the brand and consumer.  There are four other factors that connect:  brand strategy, communication, innovation and experience.   The connectivity is a source of power that can be leveraged into deeper profitability.  To read more click on the hyper link:  Love = Power = Profits

 

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About Graham Robertson: The reason why I started Beloved Brands Inc. is to help brands realize their full potential value by generating more love for the brand.   I only do two things:  1) Make Brands Better or 2) Make Brand Leaders Better.  I have a reputation as someone who can find growth where others can’t, whether that’s on a turnaround, re-positioning, new launch or a sustaining high growth.  And I love to make Brand Leaders better by sharing my knowledge.  Im a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands.  My background includes 20 years of CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke.  My promise to you is that I will get your brand and your team in a better position for future growth. Add me on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/grahamrobertson1 so we can stay connected.

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How to give Feedback on Advertising Copy

BBI Learning LogoIn a previous article, I wrote about How to Judge Advertising, trying to help Brand Leaders separate the Good ads from the Bad.  Click here to read: Judging Advertising Copy    This is a follow-up article to help outline how a Brand Leader should deliver the feedback, which is almost as important as the judging of the Advertising itself.

I come at this discussion from the client side.  I’ve never worked at an agency in my life.  But I have 20 years of CPG experience and have been in the shoes of the Brand Leader at every level.  I feel comfortable to say that most Clients don’t know how to give effective feedback to an Agency.   I’ve seen 10 people show up where they all talk and no decisions are made.   I’ve seen 10 show up and no one says a word, all looking miserable.  They say nothing and then email their feedback 5 days later.  I’ve seen Brand Leaders writing copy and tag lines, moving photos around, adding demos and even suggesting what songs to add to make the spots great.  And with modern social media campaigns, it’s becoming a mess of what people do on their own social media accounts.  The lack of fundamentals in giving feedback that links back to the strategy is getting worse, not better.   

A great Brand Leader should have more questions than answers.  They should be able to uncover problems better than they figure out solutions.  And they should respect the expertise of those they hire to tell the story of their brand.    

When seeing new Advertising Copy, a Brand Leader can really only do three things: 1) Approve the Ad 2) Reject the Ad or 3) Give direction on how to make the Ad better.  Even if you like an Ad, it’s rare that you will approve it outright.  Slide1I know Creative Teams wish we did, but it’s just not a reality.  Yes, the client feedback can help great ads get even better.  If you dislike an Ad, I say you have to kill it.  There’s no value in making an Ad you don’t like–even if it tests well.  I know not everyone will buy this.  But if you don’t love it, you won’t fight for its life, you won’t live and breathe the spot and you won’t put your heart and soul into it.  So why bother approving it.  

If you don’t love the work you do, then how do you expect the consumer to love your brand?  If you are satisfied with OK, my only regret is that I’m not competing with you.  

Advertising is Really “In the Box” Thinking

The best Advertising people are problem solvers, not blue sky “out of the box” dreamers.  They are “in the box” thinkers who are motivated by the challenge of the problem, more than the execution of some simple solution.  Big creative ideas can come from a tightly defined problem.   Checklist-icon The role of the Creative Brief is to create the right “box”, with enough room to move, but enough direction that defines the problem and challenges the Creative Team to solve it.  Advertising is a creative expression of the Brand Strategy, helping to bring the Brand’s Promise to life in the form of a story.  Great Advertising rarely comes from a blank canvass supplied by a confused client.

Getting Great Advertising is a Balance between Freedom and Control.  Most Brand Leaders allow too much FREEDOM on the strategy but want to exhibit CONTROL on the creative.  It seems odd because it should be the reverse.   Brand Leaders should control the Strategy and give up a bit of freedom on the Execution.  

A Good Creative Brief Should Be Brief, Not Long!  There should be one objective, one target, one main benefit and two main reasons to believe (RTB’s).  Agencies that want a long list of RTB’s want to take the strategic control away from you, so that they can provide options at the Creative Meeting.   Yes, it would be easier for the Agency to make Ads with that option, but you’d be letting the creative dictate your strategy rather than your strategy dictating your ad.  Creative Teams don’t want endless streams of data.   They don’t want so many options built into a brief, that they don’t know where to start.  Giving information “just in case” is confusing for them.  They need focus in order to deliver great work for you.  The smaller the brief, the bigger the ideas.

Brand Leaders should never let their Agency present “strategic” options at a Creative Meeting.  The Creative Meeting should only have creative solutions that answer the strategic problem.      That’s part of the whole flaw in why writing a really thick brief is a bad thing.   More on writing a Creative Brief at: How To Write a Creative Brief

Now Here’s the Odd Part to Feedback

How you treat your agency is crucial.  When you TELL an Agency exactly what to do, there is only one answer:  YES.  But when you ASK them what to do, you might hear:  YES, NO or MAYBE.  It also allows the agency to do what it does best, which is solving problems.  Not taking notes.  Brand Leaders should judge the advertising and then challenge the agency by always talking in terms of problems that they can solve.  

Slide1

I realize that not everyone will get this.  The dance I am about to teach you will help separate the great Brand Leaders from the bad.  I’m going to give it a shot.  If you buy into the premise above that creative people are “in the box” thinkers, who are motivated by solving problems then don’t use your feedback to give them the answers that will actually de-motivate them.  Instead, give your comments in a way that creates a new problem for them to solve.  Since the brief put them “in a box”, now the feedback should really be creating a “new box” for them to figure out.  Just don’t give them the answers. 

If you frame it in the form of a problem, you’ll be pleasantly surprised that the solution they come up with is way better than the one in your head right now.  They don’t want your solutions.  Instead of writing copy for them, say “I’m not sure the middle or the script is completely reflecting the insight”.   The Creative Team finds it de-motivating to be asked for their expertise (solving problems) and then not utilized (given the answer)

Stop writing copy.  I’ve never met a Brand Leader that was good at writing copy or figuring out the art direction.  Great Brand Leaders are great at figuring out the strategic problems.  Stick to that.  Let others you hire to figure out the solutions, actually figure out the solutions.  

Feedback At the Creative Meeting

The Creative Meeting is not Easy.  You’ve got to balance, the head, the heart and the gut against the good of the brand.  Take your time and sort it through asking the following questions:

  1. Do you love what it can do for your brand?  If you don’t love it, how do you expect your consumer to love it?  A great ad has to have everyone’s heart and soul put into it.  If you “sorta like” it, then it will be “sorta ok” in the end.  If you love it, you will fight for it.  (The Heart) 
  2. Is it on strategy?  Is the Advertisement an expression of what you have been writing in your strategy documents?   Is it doing what we hoped it would do?  I love the ABCS technique (outlined below) because it helps me to frame things in my mind, so I can evaluate it past how I feel.  I think you need something to ground yourself.  (The Head)  If  there is something in your gut says it’s off, it likely is.  (The Gut)
  3. Is it long-term Idea?  Is a big enough idea that fits with the brand, does the hard work you want to do for the brand and can last 5 years.  Think about leaving a legacy—which forces you to think of campaign-ability.  (The Brand)  Look at the Creative Brief and if the ad is not on strategy, then it has to be rejected   Advertising is an expression of strategy.  If it’s not on strategy, it has no value.  

Slide1

As for the feedback, too many people sit there taking notes and never engaging with the agency.   Sadly, great jokes fall to the silence of the room creating the tension of a 11th grade Physics exam.  There should be 3 types of feedback:

  1. In the Middle of the Meeting, Talk Out Your First Impressions: During the presentation, it’s great to be engaged enough to say “I like that” or ask a question.   People forget this type of feedback.  You are allowed to talk.  A free-flowing meeting helps ease any tension in the room, and allows you to use your instincts a little more.  Don’t be afraid of voicing your first impressions, it doesn’t lock you in.  You can like something and still reject it because it’s off strategy.  
  2. End of Meeting “Big Picture” Direction:  Once all the work is presented, focus your comments on what‘s working and challenge the team to find ways to make it better. Focus more on the Scripts that you like first, and then move to the ones you don’t like.   Stay big picture–find that balance of instincts and strategy.  Avoid getting too wrapped into the details just yet.  
  3. The Day After Give Detailed Direction:  Take 24 hours to digest all the little details with fresh eyes and maybe more discussion.  Make sure it delivers the depths of brief–highlight any gaps you’re seeing in relation to the Creative Brief.  Does it fit the target, is the tone right, and are we sure it’s communicating the reason to believe?  You might have further details (copy points, placement, colours) to the next day.  The key is to let the agency know about the day after direction, so they can expect it.  
Who Speaks?  Everyone or Just One Person

I’m a big fan of huddling as a Brand team and then giving one piece of feedback.  The agency walks away with consolidated thoughts rather than a mess of comments they have to clean up.  Having the Agency walk away with one message is more important than everyone on the Brand team getting a chance to voice their opinions.  

From a client vantage, I’ve worked with both “taking the break” and “giving feedback live”.  My preference is the break.  It enables you to take your time and give clear aligned direction.  Even with many years of experience, and being a fairly intuitive marketer with a love for advertising–I still have a hard time giving feedback 30 seconds after seeing the last script.  While it’s good to get your instincts out, I guess my big question is “what’s the rush?”  We want to get to the best advertising, right?  We took months to figure out the insight, weeks to figure out the brief and gave the creative team a few weeks to write the scripts.  So why do we want to decide on the best Ad within moments after seeing the Scripts? 

Here’s the “Old School” process:
  1. A senior person on the Agency side starts off the meeting by saying “we are so excited”.  One of the Creative guys says something really positive about the brand they saw on shelf in the 3 weeks they were working on the spot.  
  2. The Account Team re-reads the brief at the start of the meeting.  Then the agency does a 5 minute set up of each board, explaining the technique/process (e.g. this is funny spot).  Set ups can taint or bias the client’s view of a spot.
  3. Agency presents 3-5 scripts, and says which one is their favourite or recommendation.  It’s potentially a de-motivator if you ask for their favourite and then you just dismiss it anyway.  Why bother?
  4. Client Feedback is given 15 seconds after the last script is presented, with the most junior person going first, all the way up to the senior person in the room.  This feels very 1950s humiliation and de-motivating to the junior people on the Brand team.  The account team takes notes, tries to figure out from the various comments what the final direction is.  The Brand Manager caves to the most senior person in the room.  Lots of polite passive-agressive behavior, but not sure of where to go next.    
New School Process for Giving Feedback:  

Take a 15-30 minute client huddle with just the Brand team in the room, so that they can align on the direction and then give the agency one piece of feedback.  Get rid of that polite passive-agressive behavior and have a great debate behind closed doors.  

It can help the overall process because:

  1. The Agency gets one piece of consolidated feedback.  They know exactly what they are going to do next.  The huddle allows the client to get their story straight. The break also helps to slow down process so the client can think things through.
  2. It Gives Ownership to the Brand Manager, who should do all the speaking on behalf of the team, not the most senior person in the room that over-rules them.  When I was in the senior marketing role, I’d let the Brand Manager do all the talking and at the end, I would just say “great job everyone and I’m looking forward to the next round”.  
  3. The break allows the Client Team to have a very open discussion, freely hearing out everyone’s thoughts, giving junior people easier input.  Have good rich debates to make sure you’re on strategy.  It allows the senior leader to coach the Brand Manager rather than publicly over-rule.  The Brand Manager hears everyone out and then consolidates it to one message.
Bit of Crazy Talk for You

It’s also time to get rid of the “reading of the Brief” and get rid of the 5 minute agency “set up” of each ad.  I know half of you will think this is crazy and likely none of you will do it.  Brand Leaders should be in the shoes of the consumer as they see the Advertising ideas.  And unless you are going to buy an ad right beside your ad, that explains your ad, then get rid of the set ups.  Instead, bring the brief, put it face down and only turn it over once you’ve seen all the work.  Plus, you should have your brief memorized.  It’s not that hard.  You only have one brief.  Remember, your brief is fairly short!!!

 How you treat your agency can make or break the advertising you get for your brand.  So treat them right. 

 

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