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Hug Bump Hug: The Art of Giving Feedback on Creative

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Having worked on both the agency and client side of the table, I’ve borne witness to hundreds (and hundreds) of creative reviews. It’s a dance. There is the set-up, the review of the creative brief to remind everyone of the objective, and then the big reveal. All eyes are on the client to watch for the initial reaction. If you’ve watched Mad Men, you kind of get the gist. A lot has changed from that era of course, but the human response and even the interaction remain largely the same.

Over the years, a number of folks on the client side have asked me for advice on how to review creative. It pretty much boils down to “hug, bump, hug” – a phrase that came up in conversation with some writer friends a few weeks ago.

Unlike the famous scene in A League of Their Own where Tom Hanks says, “There’s no crying in baseball” there is sometimes crying in advertising – I’ve seen it! Here are some ways to not only avoid an emotionally charged creative review, but also get the best work from your creative partners.

  1. Hug #1: The first thing I generally say when reviewing creative is “This is great. You clearly put a lot of work into this, and it shows.” Establishing positive energy right off the bat (must have baseball on the brain) can go a long way.
  2. Bump: This is the time to provide constructive feedback and verify that the creative is on brief. Avoid being subjective (easier said than done) such as “I don’t like this color.” Instead, ask questions like “Interesting color choice – what lead you to chose it, and how does it meet the brief?” You’ll likely get a thoughtful and insightful answer. If you see something that could be modified to help meet the brief, pose it more as a question – “Do you think the target audience is going to understand the turn of phrase here? Is there a simpler way to say it?”
  3. Hug #2: The creative review meeting starts to wrap up at this point. The creative team has taken notes on considerations and direction for the next round (hopefully the final review). This is a good time to express your respect and gratitude for the work done to date, and eager anticipation for reviewing the next round.

Of course, there is no need to shy away from a good healthy debate here and there. The important thing is whether the creative work is on brief and is going to meet the objective based on audience insights. A bit of back and forth contributes to a positive tension. It is this tension and client-agency partnership that ultimately brings out the best creative work. 

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