Monday, July 5, 2010

Can you spot a great idea and one that stinks?

I haven't posted one of these for a while (been too busy pitching). Anyway, we're now on the subject of creative. And I get to use one of my favourite cartoons...

Judging work is the essential part of the Creative Director’s job. The quality of an agency’s output relies on the Creative Director’s ability to perform this one task.

A good Creative Director judges work on his gut. He knows instinctively what’s good, average or downright bad. 

However, there are those that find it hard to give feedback to their creative teams. They struggle to translate their gut feel into a clear explanation of what’s right or wrong with the work. Which means they resort to feedback like, “It’s crap. Do something better”. Which is not exactly the best way to advise a team that might be struggling to understand where they need to go. 

So what are the tricks to giving better, clearer and more productive feedback. Here are four techniques that I find useful: 

1. Revisiting the brief 

Before you give any comments on the work, always ask to see the brief. The work, whether it’s good or bad, should have some relation to the “single most important promise”. 

Many times, you will find that the creative team have veered away from what has been asked of them. In that case, it is your job to get them back on track. Perhaps outline some areas they could explore. 

Alternatively, you may find that the brief is off and it is that which is causing the creative team to struggle. If that is indeed the reason, you need to bring the account service team back into the loop in order to iron out any issues. 

2. The Overnight Test 

Quite often, you’ll find a creative team presents some pretty interesting ideas you’re just not sure about. The temptation is to give instant feedback and make a decision for or against. 

This can lead to a rash judgement that you may regret later on. One way around this is to do the Overnight Test. 

Get the team to scamp up their ideas and pin them to the wall. Then leave them there, without further comment, until the next morning. 

If the next day the ideas still feel good, then they have merit and you should approve them. However, if you don’t feel good about them, then the ideas probably don’t make the cut and they have to either be pushed further or canned altogether. 

3. Buying Yourself Thinking Time 

Many times, a creative team will present an idea that you feel is intrinsically good, but needs tweaking here and there to make it perfect. In instances like this, you need time to collect your thoughts and work out the feedback you need to give to help the creative team move forward. 

Some Creative Directors use the ‘balcony break’ to give them the time they need. In other words, they go to the balcony for a smoke and a chat before they come back in to give their feedback. 

Others use more subtle techniques. One particular Creative Director, who was famous back in the 80’s, used to buy time by taking his glasses off and cleaning them. In the 5 or 10 minutes it took him to do this, he’d formulate his feedback. Interestingly, there was a time when this Creative Director started dating a new girlfriend and switched to contact lenses. It was a mere 2 weeks before he changed back to his old look. A friend asked him why he’d gone back to his glasses. “Because I can’t do my job without them,” he replied. 

But what you do if you don’t smoke or wear glasses? 

I’ve quite often used the coffee break. In other words, when a team shows me their work, and I want to think about it, I excuse myself for five minutes to make a coffee. By the time I get back, I usually have some thoughts in my head as to where the ideas need to be taken. 

Of course, many Creative Directors don’t feel the need to buy time at all. They just sit in their chair for 10 or 15 minutes staring quietly at the work, a method which works, but can be a bit unnerving for the anxious team sitting in front of him. 

4. The CD on the wall 

When you reject an idea, creative teams usually want to know why. You can always say it’s not good enough and send them on their way, but it’s not exactly the best way to teach and mentor young creative people. 

So many years ago, I concocted a little evaluation device. When a team came to see me, I would use it to judge their work. It was a great way to give instant feedback and at the same time give creative teams a way to evaluate their own ideas. 

Here’s the checklist I used. 

Interestingly, I used this device to evaluate the award-winning potential of campaigns. It was very accurate. If a campaign scored positively in all six areas, it invariably won. 

Many of my CDs and senior creative guys have used the tool, too. In fact, quite a few of them have pinned it on the wall of their office and have fondly dubbed it, “The CD on the wall”.

5. How the CD on the wall has changed with the rise of social media 

The original “CD on the wall” was great if you were just judging print ads or TV spots, but in today’s world it needs to go a bit further. I’ve added one more criteria to the list above.

Over the last two to three years, we have all witnessed the power of dialogue over monlogue. The campaigns we produce that allow high levels of involvement have far more impact than those that don’t. Not just in terms of engagement but also in terms of sales, too. Our work for HP in China helped them grab a 1.5% market share away from Lenovo in just 6 months. Our campaign for Sony Ericsson took them out of a loss making position in 2009 to profit in 2010. And our thinking on Tiger Biscuat helped Kraft increase their sales by 12% in Indonesia. (You can see all these on my Youtube channel:

All these campaigns allowed high levels of participation. It is a well known fact that participation releases endorphins in the body and stimulates the part of the brain which recognizes pleasure and love.

So the new list would look like this: 

Other stuff by the author:


  1. original in today's terms would mean as ungoogleable as it can be

  2. brilliant and generous piece, andy.

  3. I had one CD who played Snood on his Mac all day. He was an absolutely brilliant guy and although it looked like he was never working, he was sitting there thinking about the briefs. That was very obvious anytime he spoke. But to an outsider, he looked lazy as hell.


  4. Just tried googling "Up your juju wazoo" and nothing came up.

    Now that's original...