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3 Quick Tips for Clients to Deliver Better Feedback

At Tailfin, we’re always looking for ways to be a better partner to clients, whether that means adopting new technologies, new processes, or just new habits (like the ones in “The Great Client Partner”). But great partnerships are by definition binary: it takes two to (effectively) tango.

In many ways, our job is to help clients get the most out of our team in the smoothest way possible. More times than not, the key ingredient is great client feedback.

First, let’s clarify: feedback doesn’t equal criticism. Feedback is focused on making something better. But that doesn’t always mean feedback has to be positive or even “constructive.” In marketing, a lot of the time delivering brutally honest feedback helps us get closer to “right”, which for most people, can be tough. So here are a few tips to help even the sweetest and most supportive marketing pros give direct and directive feedback.

#1 Just be Honest. Seriously.

No one likes to tell anyone else “your baby is ugly.” But while Agency folks may love their ideas dearly, ideas aren’t our children. They probably aren’t even as precious as “art.” They are ideas to drive commerce. Ideas we’re paid to generate. And any opinions about the ideas we generate are subjective (at least until we release them into the metric-heavy wild). That means they are subject to opinions, and we all know what they say about opinions. So the best rule when delivering feedback is to be honest. Like, brutally honest. From the gut, say-what-you-really-think honest. We can take it. We’re thirsty for it. Because nothing kills budgets, timelines, and ultimately partnerships like not speaking up. Hidden dislikes or disappointments tend to fester – which is as bad as it sounds.

#2 Explain. Give Context.

So now you’ve dropped the “I don’t like it” bomb. Now you have a responsibility to give context. Identify what specifically doesn’t feel like it’s working. Give a reason why. This can actually be tougher than Step 1. But it’s equally, if not more important.

The keys to making this criticism constructive are specificity and context. Is it the line? If so, is it the tone? The message? The pacing? Do the visuals feel off? Forced? Stale? Too juvenile? Be specific. And if you can’t find the words, ask your agency partners to help build a better vocabulary you can use to deliver better feedback. We once created a sprawling visual vocabulary to better define what the term “elegant” looks like design-wise. Spoiler alert: it helped. A lot. Common vocabulary always does.

Context also helps. If you have PTSD from an idea that bombed in the past that you’re seeing elements of in the work in front of you today, it helps for our team to know. The same holds true for instances when you know how certain elements may hit or miss with higher-ups yet to weigh in. Talk it through. Understanding your perspective helps inform how we can iterate and revise effectively.

#3 Revisit the Brief (and change it if you have to)

This should be pretty obvious, but it’s always smart to return to the origin of the work: the brief. A decent creative brief should be the genesis and the judge; the inspiration for creative work and the measuring stick you can use to at least somewhat objectively evaluate subjective material. If the work is on brief but somehow not connecting, maybe the brief needs more scrutiny.

Creative Directors talk about the joys of having a “tight brief”, but sometimes clients and Account teams are wary of “tightening” too much for fear of leaving out a key benefit. The truth is, we deal in 5 and 10 second micro-moments these days, so if the brief sprawls, you’re bound to miss your window. Consider the fact that your brief may be the problem with the creative – then  tighten it up.

Bottom Line: Feedback is a gift

It may feel a little like “tough love”, but good, honest, direct feedback is the thing that brings client and agency teams closer together. Especially if it’s delivered in a way where there’s some shared responsibility – it’s not you, it’s all of us.

For some tips on how to deliver feedback check out this article: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-give-creative-feedback

For more tips on how to write / approve great briefs, check out this article:  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/ultimate-guide-writing-creative-brief-kevin-namaky/


About Greg Abel

Greg Abel | Founder of Tailfin Marketing
Greg has been disrupting the ad industry for decades. After graduating from UGA’s Grady College of Journalism, Greg found his path at big ad agencies as a Media Planner and Account Executive. From there, Greg jumped on the digital wave at a consultancy where he helped to develop digital strategy and online user experiences for a range of consumer brands. In 1999, Greg co-founded Tailfin, an ad agency that specializes in branding, traditional and digital advertising, engaging content development, and social media.

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