Getting and Receiving Feedback In the Creative World Isn’t Easy – But It IS Inevitable. Here are some helpful tips to make the feedback process easier for you, and more productive for your team.
In my advertising career, I have been on the giving and receiving end of the dreaded feedback channel more times than I can count. It’s an everyday part of the job. When you are doing anything for someone other than yourself, you are going to receive feedback. When someone is doing something for YOU, you are going to give feedback. Still, it’s hands down one of the more difficult tasks in the creative work space. Most people just aren’t good at it. And because of that, it’s easy to develop bad habits. Here are the most common “bad feedback habits” that I’ve encountered, and some suggestions and tips on ways they can be broken.
- Bad Habit – Empty Praise
You all know this client. The one who, after every presentation says “Good job,”, “nice work”—and not a whole lot else. Now I enjoy a good compliment as much as the next person, but a collaborator who never has any feedback isn’t doing your team any favors. And this is even more frustrating when that same client requests multiple rounds of changes, after giving this “empty praise.” Sometimes clients do this for fear that that they will hurt the creative team’s feelings or take the feedback too personally.
Interestingly, a recent Harvard Business Review found that 57% of people prefer corrective feedback to praise. That’s because most creatives rely on constructive criticism for project next steps and directions for improvement. Repeatedly hearing “good job” isn’t useful because it’s not specific—or actionable.
How to Break It: If you and/or your team are consistently receiving non-specific praise from one of your collaborators, it might be time to take a look at your collaboration culture. People who have a tendency to avoid negative feedback are often easily intimidated by situations that feel closed-off. Ask yourself: Are you encouraging open dialogue? Are you responding well to other collaborators’ feedback? Their empty praise just may be something you are contributing to by appearing to be too sensitive. TIP: Create a four or five question feedback sheet that asks for direct feedback. Example: Do the headlines and copy points hit your key messages? Are the visuals on point with your brand goals? Is there anything we can change to make this get a perfect score?
Use this in your present meetings with this client until they get used to speaking directly with you and the team. Make certain though that when the feedback is given, you and the team respond in a professional and open way.
- Bad Habit – Order Givers
It’s easier for some people to give very specific directions rather than offer feedback. “Make the background white”. “Use Comic Sans for the headlines,” It’s easy to fall into a routine of taking direction, and just doing what is asked, especially when it’s delivered in a straightforward manner. But what this does is turn you into an order taker rather than a creative thinker. And sooner or later your client will devalue your work because all you are doing is exactly what they are asking you to do. It’s a Catch 22; doing what they ask saves time. But plain orders offer far less opportunity for improvement than truly collaborative feedback delivered with context. In fact, HBR reports that 92% of people believe that negative/redirecting feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance.
How to Break It: Encourage clients that are already comfortable with delivering negative feedback to provide more context with open-ended or analogical questions. “You should do this, you should do that” feedback isn’t effective—but asking questions, like “what would happen if we thought about it this way?” can help. TIP: When a client gives you an order, rather than feedback with content, ask probing questions. Example: Make the logo bigger. Question: What problem are you trying to solve by making the logo bigger? Do you feel the current logo isn’t drawing enough attention to the brand? If so, let’s explore ways we can make your brand more recognizable. Maybe making the logo bigger isn’t the solution.
Practice asking probing questions with client that you already have an established working relationship with and ask them to let you know if you come off defensive or if your questions are helpful in getting to the root of the problem.
- Bad Habit – Lost in the Details
This client is one of my favorite challenges. You know the ones who get lost in the details of an early stage concept presentation, and miss the question all together. This kind of feedback can be extremely unproductive, costing your team time and effort, and preventing you from receiving the type of actionable feedback you actually need to direct the project’s next steps. Some people struggle with separating a rough concept from a final draft. Especially if the rough concept looks pretty darn final. As frustrating as this is, it’s an easy habit to break.
How to Break It: Collaborators can only know as much as you tell them, so arm them with relevant information about what you’re looking for from them at the current stage in the project ahead of time. If clients know that work is only 50% done, they’ll know not to critique the fine details in the same way they would something 90% complete and instead focus on giving feedback on the broader concept, which is what you’re looking for. TIP: Show pieces and parts in early stages. If you want buy in on the headline, and haven’t nailed down the visuals or body copy yet, just show the headline. If you want a reaction to the main visual, just show that. You are completely in charge of what a client sees and when, so be clear about what you are showing and even clearer about what you want the client to react to. Also, if you are sharing a rough draft, make it look like a rough draft. I always type in big bold print at the top DRAFT.
- Bad Habit – Broad, General Opinions
Some clients default to a vague pronouncement about the creative, or even a subjective opinion rather than meaningful feedback.. But similar to praise, broad comments without context are challenging to act on, and don’t help your creative team improve. It’s a lazy feedback method and it doesn’t hold anyone accountable. This is a very dangerous type of feedback because you could go through multiple rounds of changes trying to figure out what the client REALLY means. They leave it open for interpretation which means later they can change their mind.
How to Break It: It’s important to instill the purpose of feedback within your team to help guide reviewers away from vague criticism. Let them know up front that the purpose of feedback is to move the project forward, and make sure that it stays on track. TIP: Use your Creative Brief as a starting point for all feedback sessions If someone gives an opinion based broad feedback statement like “It just doesn’t pop,” refer back to the brief. Does the creative meet the goals and objectives set forth in the brief? Are the key message points included? Is the call to action correct and visible? Then ask direct, probing questions about their general comment. “When you say make it pop, what problem are you trying to solve?”
The key to receiving better feedback is to ask for it, and when you get it, be open to the comments. The better you and your team handle feedback, the easier it will be for your team mates to feel comfortable giving it. Feedback isn’t going away, so embrace it. Practice giving and receiving feedback with your peers. Hold each other accountable.
About the author: Debbie Kennedy is former Head of Advertising Operations with CarMax, and is currently Creative Director for Capstone Production Group, and CEO of Write for You, a Digital Content and Creative Workflow Consulting Firm based in Durham, North Carolina. She’s been a power user and advocate of InMotionNow since 2014.