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Working with Creatives: Giving Notes

June 04, 2018

Allow me to let you in on a little secret…creatives don’t like getting notes. To be honest, most of us are a mix between insecure and egotistical, so hearing opinions of our work isn’t our favorite task. With that said, good creatives know feedback and notes are a vital part of the process, and if done correctly, they can greatly improve the final outcome of a project.

Notes are the number one factor in determining the success of a project, the happiness of the people you collaborate with, and ultimately, the success of you and your company. I suppose there’s a bit of pressure on you to provide good notes, but never fear — I’m here to give you some helpful tips for providing feedback, whether it be to a vendor you’ve hired, or your own internal team.

  1. Hire Well: There is an old saying in Hollywood: “Directing is 90% casting,” and it couldn’t be more accurate. The number one factor to a successful collaboration is the person you hire. This creative, whether it is a video editor, graphic designer, or copywriter should serve as your expert in this process. If you trust that they’re good at what they do, it will allow you to focus on your area of expertise, which will greatly improve the feedback process. If you hire well, everything else should fall into place.
  2. Try not to be prescriptive: Nothing kills creative juju like telling us exactly what to do. If you’ve hired well (see number 1), then chances are we have a bit more experience creating what we are working on. Allow us to use that expertise and experience to solve the problem, especially on the first few versions. So instead of saying, “change this to blue,” or “take out that shot,” or “change the music”, just explain to us what isn’t working. Instead, try something like: “I don’t feel inspired enough,” “the pace is too slow,” or “this doesn’t feel on-brand enough.” This may sound counterintuitive because you’re trying to be helpful by being descriptive, but if you tell us what you’re trying to do, rather than WHAT to do…well…we can work with that. If time goes on and we still aren’t getting it, feel free to become more prescriptive, but at least give us a chance to solve the problems on our own.
  3. Tell us what you like: This isn’t just for our ego, although it is nice to know we haven’t totally screwed everything up (ahem: insecure and egotistical). It’s important for us to know what you like so we don’t change that part as we try to solve problems. There is nothing worse than feeling like you’ve fixed a problem, only to be told that we actually took out the parts that you liked and made everything worse.
  4. Explain Why: Don’t just tell us what to change, but explain why. This serves two purposes. First, the more context we have, the better we are able to find solutions to the problem. (There’s a subtle but important difference between, “Change the music” and “Can we try a different music track? This one is too somber.”) Second, this is a good test for you to decide if it’s a good note or not. If you can’t explain or defend a note, chances are: it’s not needed.
  5. Focus on the big picture: It’s easy for you to get bogged down on details that feel really important to you, but aren’t serving the overall focus of the project. Try to keep in mind who the end audience is and what THEY care about. Often times, that is different than what your internal review team wants to focus on. Keeping the big picture in mind will allow you to provide more focused feedback, as well as keep everything on schedule.
  6. Have an organized process: There is nothing I dread more on a project than the phrase “review committee.” I totally understand that you’ve got a lot of politics in play. Everyone needs to weigh in — from the CEO, to the intern’s cat — and at times, that is unavoidable. But whatever you do, don’t dump that huge pile of notes on your creative’s lap and let them sort through it. Appoint a single person, whose job it is to receive all of the feedback and pare it down, eliminating the contradictory or duplicative notes. It’s also important to identify the main decision makers — try to limit it to no more than three. As the versions move forward, the “review committee” should dwindle down drastically. If it started at ten (gulp!), by version two it should be down to just those three key decision makers. This is important to both the quality of the end piece, as well as the sanity of everyone involved.

Hopefully, this serves as a helpful guide for your next project. And if you’re so inclined, feel free to leave me a comment about everything you loved about this piece — with no negative feedback whatsoever.

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