Whenever there is a creative presentation coming up on my calendar, I mistakenly look forward to it, thinking that I can sit back and be entertained by songs, antics, laughter. Won't this be fun? Then inevitably, by the time we are 15 minutes into it, my mind is spinning and I wonder, "What the hell was I looking forward to again?"
I think as clients, we mistake our role at this stage as that of audience or judge. I don't buy that. I think it should be coach. The agency has done the best job it can, given our "ask." Now it's up to us to help guide the work. This is such an important moment. Think of your kid coming to you with something they created. You have the opportunity to help, inspire, focus and build or say something really stupid that will deflate, confuse and anger. Here are five basic tips that can help brands get better at guiding the creative pitch:
1. Strictly limit who is in the room. I love to give junior people the opportunity to learn, but if this is a high stakes project, keep it very small. I like to have seven people (four agency, three client) tops in the room. You will have to force this to happen, but it's worth it to actually have a group that can discuss rather than lob things across the table.
2. When the agency presents, do not "read along" (unless it's print, of course). It's so tempting, especially if the agency hands you a deck. Do not! You need to absorb the communication as you would as a listener or watcher. Your brain processes information differently if you read it. Resist the temptation.
3. Start with your gut reaction. Good, bad or indifferent. Again, this is how humans (not focus-group humans, real ones) will judge this.
4. Try really hard to give one or two pieces of feedback only. Do not give a laundry list. And if others on your team have spoken before you, summarize what you feel are the most important pieces of direction. Of course there is always the "not enough branding" comment, but something like this needs to be used in the right instance. For example, if the spot has an amazing story, where the payoff is perfect, and can only come from your brand, the "not enough branding" is a misplaced comment. Other classic examples: I like the ad idea, but the execution is wrong (off tone, too simple, too complicated, predictable, etc.); brand is not central to the idea; there is no arc to the story -- it won't hold the viewers' attention; too vanilla, doesn't push hard enough.
5. If you hate it, and you know it's wrong, kill it. And tell them why. This will help give the agency guardrails for the work. Usually, if the agency has heart for the idea, you will need to hold that pillow over it for a long time before you actually smother it. But do it. Don't waste anyone's time if you know it's wrong. In the end, it's your money, your brand to build and your responsibility to your company.
And finally, it seems obvious but when all is said and done, have someone write it up, make sure what you said is actually what was heard, and then sit back, forget about the pain you just went through and look forward to the next round.