how to work with creatives

Why “Make It Pop” Is Bad Feedback & Other Creative Services Insights

To those people not in a creative services role, the concept of “creativity” can feel a little bit like magic. Or perhaps madness. In truth, good creatives need a little bit of both to consistently deliver “aha” moments day in and day out for different clients.

It’s a hard world to understand, and even harder to figure out how to effectively buy and evaluate it. Most everything else you buy is more concrete. You buy a car and you get a car. You hire an accountant and they keep you compliant. Creativity is a bit like trying to capture lightning in a bottle–but the bottle is uniquely shaped and the lightning is an interesting color and both together clearly suggest lightning in a bottle while looking distinctly different from other bottled lightning…but I digress.

Let me ground this conversation by bringing it back to something helpful: how to work effectively with creative services. Whether you’re hiring an agency or freelancers, these tips will help you build great relationships with your creative partners while getting what you need and valuing what they bring to the table.

But first, a little perspective
Before we jump into the tips, I want to start with the #1 reason good creative collaborations are successful: they start from a place of mutual respect. That is, creatives acknowledge from the start that you know your business better than anyone. In return, we ask for the same. Together, we are a team with a shared goal.

Copywriters, designers and even web developers absolutely pull from a mysterious place where great ideas are bobbing around. But it’s not just about what looks pretty or sounds clever. Professional creatives also make it their business to know what ideas are worthwhile and how to manipulate creative elements to achieve results. For example, the combination of words most likely to inspire a click, the psychology of color theory behind a new logo design, the placement of elements that make a website that much more intuitive to use. Behind even the simplest design or headline is hours of thinking, consideration and tinkering, all through the lens of years of experience.

Tip 1: Go Slow to Go Fast

For all the joking about magic and wizardry, creative professionals are very strategic thinkers who benefit from a deep dive into your brand. The least helpful way to approach a new creative project is to come from a perspective of, “You’re the creative, you figure it out.” Think of it this way: the more thought, strategy and input you provide upfront, the more thoughtful, on-point and on-brand the creative output will be.

You may find that developing a creative brief document for the project is helpful. If you haven’t used one before, a creative brief is a document that outlines an overview of your brand, project, metrics, deliverables and timelines. Depending on how clear your project is, it maybe something you fill out beforehand or something you can work on together with your creative pro. The final product is an agreed-upon set of background, goals, deliverables and timelines that guides the project.

The points in the next tip go even deeper into the strategic phase of your project.

Tip #2 Be Prepared to Participate in the Process

Even if your project is a brand-new branding project for a brand-new company, there’s going to be work for YOU to do upfront to ensure the success of the project.

Your agency, writer or designer will most likely want to take you through some kind of strategic worksheet or exercise before they will write, design or code anything. Here are some things your creative partner is likely to ask about:

  • What’s at the heart and soul of your brand? What’s your “why”?
  • What’s your vision of what you’re trying to build?
  • What do you value as an organization?
  • Who is/are your audience(s)? What motivates them? What are the barriers to making a buying decision?
  • What are your metrics, goals and expectations for this project?
  • Do you have examples of creative you like that you can share to help calibrating the creative direction?

If you can’t answer these questions, neither can your creative partner, which means they’ll struggle to fully bring your brand to life.

Tip #3 Allow Realistic Timelines & Budgets

In creative circles, there’s something known as the Creative Project Triangle. Basically, you can only pick two of the following: Fast, Cheap, Good Quality.

work with creatives

Your options are:

  • Fast and Cheap, but not Good
  • Fast and Good, but not Cheap
  • Good and Cheap, but not Fast

Be realistic with your expectations. Pay $50 for a logo and you’ll get a logo only worth $50 (meaning, not good). Put tight timelines or restrictive budgets on a project, and don’t be surprised if it doesn’t perform. One of the best ways to win creatives over is by respecting the time it takes to be creative and the monetary value of what it takes.

Tip #4 Keep an Open Mind

You hired a creative services professional because of what they do best—develop unique, attention-getting, action-motivating ideas for marketing your brand. Allow them.

The ideas they present may make you uncomfortable. They may not speak directly to you as a consumer. They may seem too far removed from what you think your brand is. Obviously, you don’t want something that’s offensive or totally off-brand. But part of hiring a creative pro is asking them to push your brand beyond what you typically do. Especially in the early concept phase of a project, try to mute your inner critic and embrace the process.

Tip #5 Give (and Take) Helpful Feedback

“Make it pop.” “I’ll know it when I see it.” “Can you spice/jazz it up?” “I don’t like it.” “I wouldn’t respond to that.”

These are the kinds of phrases that are hard for creative services professionals to hear. Not because it’s client feedback (believe it or not, we crave client feedback!), but because it’s not helpful feedback. And the way you give feedback early can set the tone for the rest of the project. Be vague and your designer will feel like they’re just guessing what you’re looking for. Be hypercritical and your writer will forgo creativity in favor of giving you exactly what you ask for in fear of straying outside the lines. No one wins in these situations.

Creative elements – headlines, images, colors, graphics, ads, billboards, TV spots, social media, etc. – are intended to provoke an emotional reaction. It’s about conveying information in a way that connects with something inside the user or viewer. Your feedback should tap into that same feeling space. Use feeling words to describe when you like or don’t like something. Here are some examples:

Feedback: “I don’t like this image.”
Helpful Feedback: “This image makes me feel sad instead of uplifted.”

Feedback: “Let’s spice up the copy.”
Helpful Feedback: “We are a fun, upbeat brand. Can we add more lightness to the copy?”

Additionally, it can be helpful to ask questions instead of dictating changes. Chances are, there’s a very sound reason your designer, writer or developer chose a word or a color or made a UX decision.

Feedback: “I like round buttons better than square ones.”
Helpful Feedback: “I’m struggling a little with that button shape. Can you tell me why you chose it?

Tip #5.5 You Are Not [Necessarily] the Audience

This is related to tip 5, but worth putting a little extra focus on it. It’s instinctual for you to react to creative in the way YOU would react. Remember, you may be the client, but you are not the ultimate target—your defined audience is. So when reviewing creative and preparing to give feedback, don’t give your own feedback. Think of a proxy person you know, someone who closely resembles the end audience, and imagine what their feedback would be.

It’s true that in a lot of ways, working with creative services professionals is very different than working with other types of business services. But at the end of the day, creatives are just another professional service provider with the goal of making you happy by achieving your goals. They just get to have a little more fun going about it than most.

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