Gabberissue #5: Feedback
By Siobhan Fitzgerald
You know that feeling when it all comes together. After weeks of brainstorming, of coming up with ideas then discarding them, of carefully picking through thoughts until you can sew them together into a seamless creative concept that hits the right notes across multiple platforms and does what it’s meant to and MAKES SENSE of all the problems you’re trying to solve.
There’s such pleasure in seeing the final deck for a creative presentation come together. At this stage you can think, there’s the answer, it’s been there all along and could hardly have been any other.
You present with enthusiasm and hope that it receives an equally enthusiastic response. Let’s say it does.
You leave, maybe you go to the pub for a well-earned pint. Relish the moment: most of the time, this is as good as it gets.
Because next comes Feedback. And frequently thereafter comes more feedback, and then more, from CEO through to CMO through to marketing manager through to account service, taking a turn through strategy until finally it reaches creative. And you’d better hold on tight, or your original concept in all its logical purity could turn into its messy cousin who's a little inbred and not too smart.
Feedback is hard. It’s hard to take and it’s hard to give.
On the whole we’re all used to it—our work is commercial and collaborative, and most people in advertising are giving and receiving feedback on a daily (if not hourly if not minute-ly) basis. By the time a creative idea gets to client it’s probably undergone tens of rounds of feedback, between creative teams, creative directors, strategy and account service. But keeping an idea on track in the wake of client feedback seems to be the most challenging task of all.
So how do the best in the business do it? We reached out to some of Australia’s top creative directors to hear how they navigate the world of client feedback and create ideas that still have punch.
Darren Spiller, CCO, Host/Havas
I think the main point here is to keep reminding the client what the original objective was or is. Then you are able to continually ask the question “is that feedback going to help you achieve that objective?”
Unfortunately as meeting after meeting is played out, everyone forgets why they were there in the first place.
But if you can apply that filter, it should align everyone and help to curb egos and separate agendas. If the objective changes then that’s always a great thing to pry to the surface—you can reset to go again if that is indeed the case. In the end we should all be there for the same outcome.
Barb Humphries, Creative Director, The Monkeys Sydney
Making great creative work is a collaboration, and feedback, suggestions, ‘builds’ and their evil twin ‘optimisations’ are a necessary part of the process. Managing those is not always easy. Keeping in mind the original objective and ambition for the work is important, so is trying not to react on the spot, or shoot the messenger. (Apologies to dead messengers, past and present.)
One thing I’ve found helpful in dealing with those curly comments that seem to come out of nowhere, is knowing that they never come out of nowhere.
Perhaps be a direction from their boss that threw them, or something going on at their office that has nothing to do with your project. Discovering what the real pressure or fear underneath behind the feedback is key to working out a positive way forward.
Ben Coulson, CCO, Clemenger BBDO Sydney
Yes, feedback can look like a long list of bad stuff, but having a shit fit or sulking doesn’t help, ever. Clients will always tell you their ‘concerns’, they get concerned a lot around creativity, it’s not their wheelhouse. Some concerns have more merit than others. Keep your cool, consider it a conversation, not a directive. Be professional and respectful, listen, debate, make changes, try things out, show you tried, debate some more. Guess the point is, stay calm even it’s really silly or contradictory. Feedback is when the game is really afoot.
Elle Bulleen, Founder and CD, SDWM
Feedback can be scary stuff, but it’s also a reality of what we do.
I find it best to approach it like an angry drunk. Cautiously, calmly and with a view of putting it to bed.
Being reactive and going in all guns blazing usually just leads to a bar fight. But if you can respectfully get to the bottom of what the problem is, then you get creative about different ways to solve it. And as creatives, that’s what we do best.
Emma Hill, ECD, M&C Saatchi Melbourne
Ahh feedback. It hurts sometimes hey? Right in the soul. But I often find the ol' A Few Small Wins strategy can sometimes help.
You listen to the feedback, breathe, avoid making that classic WTF-face, (even though you're making it on the inside of your face).
Then you instinctively sort through which bits of feedback will compromise the strength of the idea, and which bits wont.
You then kindly and amicably agree to the ones that won’t fuck the idea up completely, giving the client some 'wins', before articulately and passionately challenging the changes that will rip the idea’s heart out and stomp on it. Sometimes it works wonders. Sometimes... well... we make the best work we can under the circumstances.
Sarah McGregor, Creative Director, Cummins & Partners
I don’t think you get anywhere by telling a client (or indeed any human) that they’re wrong, so I’ve never been one to standup ‘fight’ feedback. I used to fix a rictus grin to my face and seethe: ‘Sure – we’ll look at that’… But then a few years ago, I tried something different. I tried thinking in my head - “Well, what if they’re right?” I did this, even if I knew very bloody well that they weren’t. And you know what? It kinda changed things for me. It stopped me looking petulant (I have a terrible poker face) and it helped me empathise with the real reason they were asking for the change, so that I could find another way to solve it and make them feel heard, without compromising the idea.
And don’t tell anyone… but a few times I realised they were right and actually, what they were suggesting (shock, horror) was going to make the idea better.
Ant White, CCO, CHE Proximity
To manage feedback, I normally try to understand the intent of it. So, I just ask. Why do you want this changed? Or that bigger? Or that thing to be blue? And do you think people really care if you put that thing in there too? There is usually a pretty good answer for the feedback and you can solve it, or make it seem not as important. And if there’s not a solution, well, then you have a communication problem or the wrong idea, and it's time to go again.
Annie Price, Creative Director, JWT Melbourne
When I think about the word ‘feedback’ I can’t help but remember a client once saying they felt the term was too negative so we were instructed to call it ‘feed forward’ from now on. Ahh the LOLs!
I think the trick to addressing feedback but not losing your idea (or your mind) is to think like a lawyer. Stick to the facts, keep it rational, don’t get too defensive or emotional. Oh, and pick your battles. Getting great work through gets easier as your relationship with a client grows. Over time, they trust you more and more. So, let some smaller stuff go through to the keeper, and save your battles for the bigger, more important work that you really want to see get up.
Cam Blackley, CCO, M&C Saatchi
There’s always something that you can give which means more to the client than it does to the job. Pick that thing early and have it up your sleeve for the inevitable negotiations.
Sarah Barclay, ECD, JWT New York
Helping everybody involved feel like they are part creators and guiders of the project helps keep things on track. No one is going to kill their own idea.
If the feedback is about a bigger logo or saying ‘new’ twice but the idea remains intact, don’t fight it. But if the feedback will cause the slow, painful dilution of the idea, there’s no point in keeping it half alive.