Give Productive Feedback to Creatives
Whether you are working with a large agency, an in-house department or freelancers, great creative is a team effort. To get the best creative, you have to give solid, constructive feedback.
The following tips are based on my more than 25 years of experience as an in-house, agency and "free agent" copywriter, as well as an informal e-mail survey of direct marketing colleagues who both give and receive creative feedback. Many thanks to those who participated.
1. Keep revisions and alterations to a minimum by providing complete input at the beginning of the project. When you invest time providing good information at the start, it reduces revisions.
2. Make the objective clear from the beginning so work can be evaluated against a set of criteria. Refer back to this objective when providing feedback.
3. Involve everyone who will review and approve copy and design in the initial input.
4. Give feedback. Writers and designers are professionals; they don't take comments about their work personally when feedback is reasonable and easy to understand.
5. Start and end with a positive comment. Sandwich the less-than-positive feedback in between.
6. Be specific; be concrete. Saying "I don't like this," or, "Something about this bothers me," doesn't provide useful direction. Give examples or show a sample of what you're looking for.
7. Provide comments in writing. Whether you review a piece by phone or in person, follow up with written comments. This provides an accurate future reference for everyone involved.
8. Have one person review and combine all comments into one document if multiple people approve the layouts and copy. Do this before giving them to the copywriter or designer. If you don't, the creative team will have to make decisions about conflicting comments from various people. This can lead to changes that cost time and money.
9. Use the "diamond and coal" approach to provide feedback. Diamonds are the sparkling qualities of copy with easily recognized value. Coal represents those elements that lack sparkle but can become diamonds by applying pressure over time. Even copy that misses the mark can be transformed through thoughtful revision. Encourage your writer or designer to take what they've done and use it as a foundation. No one likes starting over.
10. Offer two things you like about a piece, then two ways you think it could be improved. Balanced comments are more palatable.
11. DO NOT rewrite copy or redesign a piece, then tell the writer or designer to use what you've done—unless you believe you have no choice. Provide constructive feedback, then let the professionals do their jobs.
12. Explain your review and approval process before a project begins. This is especially important when you're working with a writer or designer for the first time. If your process includes two rounds of review and revisions—one for marketing and one for legal—disclose this at the beginning. Few things are more demoralizing than unexpectedly spending more time revising a piece than you did creating it.