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Everyone’s a critic, not everyone can critique


If you work in the advertising world either as a client, a creative or a suit, how often have you heard or even used any of the following when reviewing creative?

‘There’s no way we can run with that, I hate that colour’.
‘If you move the logo over there, cut out that text and add another image, we’re nearly there’.
‘It reminds me of that terrible ad from a few years back’.
‘I’ve got a better idea…’
‘I don’t get it’.

All of the above (or similar) are possibly the most frustrating aspect of your job if you work as a creative. Since changing jobs in quick succession recently (in a good way), I have been exposed to a number of different creative people, processes and feedback. Some good and some, quite frankly, rubbish. So I’ve been thinking about how to make things easier for those involved in the creative process. This is not because all creatives are precious and have huge egos that need to be constantly stroked – although I’ve met plenty who are like that. This is about improving the creative process to get the best out of your creative partners, and will hopefully be helpful to clients, suits and creatives alike.

It’s all in the brief

Without wanting to patronise, the most important aspect of achieving good creative outcomes starts with an excellent brief. The briefing process should involve a brief written by someone in the know who understands and can articulate the problem that needs to be solved. Whenever possible, I advocate for creative teams to have access to clients and be involved in the briefing session with them. It’s a good time to ask questions, and get an overall view of whatever is required. Clients, even if you don’t write the brief, you should always sign it off. This sets out parameters for all involved and is essential to ensure everyone’s expectations are managed.

In my experience, if a creative struggles with answering a brief, the brief is either badly written or wrong*. Whatever concepts, visuals or copy that are produced, should always be checked against the written brief to make sure that all requirements have been covered off. The brief is also the place to include mandatories and dos and don’ts, budget, timings and more importantly, business objectives.

When it comes to reviewing creative, whether you’re the client or the agency, it’s worth remembering that we’re all on the same side when it comes to deliverables. Collectively, we want the campaign to be successful.

Start by re-reading the brief to remind everyone what the outcomes need to be. Allow the concept originator to give some background on where the idea has come from, and how it can be executed. While I’m not suggesting that anyone be treated with kid gloves during the process, the importance of tactful and diplomatic feedback should never be underestimated, and more importantly, comments should always be substantiated.

Announcing that you don’t like a certain colour, image or font just ‘Because I don’t like it’ is never going to be helpful during the review process. Think about why the offending element isn’t working and again refer back to the brief and point out why whatever you are critiquing doesn’t do the job you want it to.

Mind your language

Frame your language in a supportive way, ‘Change it and move that here and take that out’ is not going to encourage the best work from anyone. Try, ‘How can we move this forward to get it where it needs to be’? Or, ‘What if we did…’.  Whilst the occasional argument demonstrates that those involved with the project are passionate about the work, negativity and aggression on a regular basis will kill the creative process.

If you’re a client looking at work for the first time, you should be aware that before concepts come anywhere near you, they have been rigorously discussed and tweaked to make sure they deliver on what you have asked for. If there is a great differences between what you think you briefed and what comes back, then either the brief was wrong or it’s time to find a new creative partner.

Subjectively objective

For most of us, creativity is a subjective thing, but that doesn’t mean it should be. The most important question you need to ask is, ‘Does this idea answer the brief’? This involves taking a step back and being objective. Secondly, think about whether you like it. If something isn’t working for you, explain your rationale and then work with your creative team(s) to either improve the idea or move on from it.

After 25 years in the industry, I’ve finally worked out that it’s easy to be critical but far harder and undoubtedly more useful to provide a fair critique.



*Or if it’s happening on a regular basis, the creative in question might need to rethink their career choice.