Beth Wampler

Article Summary:

How to critique creative work and provide constructive feedback.

How To Critique Creative Work

If you're a Marketing Director, or in charge of a creative team, it's one of the most fun parts of your job, and maybe sometimes one of the toughest -- Reviewing creative work and providing constructive feedback on a print ad, web design, logo concept, television ad, radio ad etc. How do you judge if it's on target or not? And if not, how do you tell the creative team it's off-target and move the process forward in a constructive way?

Here are six things to keep in mind when working with your ad agency or design firm:

1. Take yourself out of the picture
You are not the target market. Sure, maybe you are the same age and sex as your prospective customers, but you are not them. You are inside the machine. You know too much, and can never put yourself in the same position as those people who haven't yet decided to buy from, trust, or visit you. So, whether you like the ad/logo or not is irrelevant. Will it catch the eye and persuade the most people possible in your primary target market? That is the question you need to be asking yourself.

2. Think strategically
Compare what the ad is saying and doing to what you agreed it needs to do in the creative workplan. (You started with a creative workplan, right?) Is it aimed at the right audience? Does it use language they will respond to? Does it say clearly why you're different from your competitors? In the case of an ad or billboard, does it get to the point quickly or is it trying to say too much? Will the visuals draw the attention of your target market? Think about the magazine, newspaper, mailbox or tradeshow where this will appear...is it going to stand out or blend in?

3. Don't wimp out
Does it feel safe? Then it's probably not going to get any attention. Resist the urge to play it safe or do what's predictable. You'll never rise above your competition with "safe." With literally thousands of messages bombarding your prospects every day, you can't afford NOT to stand out in some way.

4. Be specific about needed changes
It's okay to make changes. Your agency will expect you to! Just be specific in what needs to be different. Give direction -- at least point your creative team toward something or away from something. The worst feedack you can give is "I don't like it, but I don't know why." Or, "I'll know what I'm looking for when I see it." Go back to #2 and answer those questions honestly. Find where the creative work is not on strategy. Ask yourself if the change you want to make will have an impact on the response rate, effectiveness, or readability of the piece.

5. Remember, it's hard to hear your baby's ugly
Keep in mind that every piece of creative presented to you for review is like a baby to the team who created it. They've spent hours working on it, nurturing it, tweaking it. Even the simplest-looking design and copy has had hundreds of creative decisions made before it's presented to you. Colors are chosen specifically to work best with a certain photo. A font is chosen to match the mood of the message and for its readability. The headline is written and rewritten, dozens of options are tried out. The point here is not to discourage you from making changes, but to offer a suggestion about how to make them. Start from the premise that they very well may have tried the exact change you're suggesting. So, when working with your creative team, ask "Did you try...." or "What was your thought process in choosing that font or that photo? I think x might work better, what do you think?"

6. Don't catch the dreaded disease "Change-a-holism"
You'll know you've caught it when you find yourself making changes to the changes you already made. Most likely this happens when new people are introduced into the review process at different times. To make the process efficient (and therefore as cost-effective as possible for you), be sure everyone who has a say in approving the creative work -- including Legal -- makes all of their changes at the same time in the first round. If the process is running smoothly, you shouldn't need more than 2 or 3 rounds or drafts before artwork is final.

With these six steps you will be able to get creative work that is on target, gets results and makes you look good.

Beth Wampler has more than 22 years experience in marketing and advertising, including the last 14 as the Owner and Creative Director of AOR, Inc. in Denver, CO. AOR stands for "Agency OFF Record," which is a mutant hybrid between a boutique design firm and a strategic ad agency. Her expertise is in helping business owners and managers define their brand, develop marketing plans, ad campaigns, lead generation and sales incentive programs. Check out AOR's work and slightly twisted philosophy of marketing at www.thinkaor.com, or sign up today for AOR's Free Marketing Ideas Newsletter

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