Instead, just tell them you hate it.
In this politically correct age, clients are understandably worried about offending. If I were the client, I too would think twice before turning an unequivocal thumbs down on my agency's ideas. It's not the way things work in an era where teamwork and compromise are the norm.
Consider this typical scenario: The agency creative team makes an eloquent (though off-the-mark) presentation, and the client stares into those excited faces, those blazing eyes, and thinks, "I can't do this to them." So instead the client tiptoes around the issue. Adjectives like "interesting," "different" and "unusual" are used. And then comes the dreaded "but." By the time all the "buts" have been discussed, the spot is essentially dead, but no one wants to admit it-to themselves or each other.
As a result, the creative group goes back to the office and works on an idea that will never fly. And the client dreads the next meeting when they'll look into those faces once again and be forced to come up with other adjectives of indirect rejection.
If only someone at the first meeting had said, "I hate it." No doubt a hush would have fallen over the room. Some feathers might be ruffled. There would be some "discussion." But things would calm down, and both the agency and the client would be better off.
The agency could focus on the business of advertising rather than on endless interpretation of the client's ambiguous remarks and "real" feelings. It's hard to find a lot of nuance in "I hate it."
All of this boils down to good intentions, bad results. Clients are motivated by an honest desire to spare someone's feelings; they don't want to hurt a "sensitive" writer or art director who has poured heart and soul into a storyboard. But you know what? Creatives are more resilient than most people (including their creative directors) give them credit for. I've watched them bounce back from rejection with inspired advertising.
I've seen this "tell me you hate it" approach in action. More often than not, it works (though it takes some getting used to for people who have come from agencies where all negative comments were sugar-coated). It does so because compliments as well as criticism can be taken for what they are. There's nothing better than a compliment from a client you know is sincere. Clear, unambiguous communication is the single best tool a client has to help its agency produce good advertising.
So clients, if you hate it, say it. It's much better than "fixing" an idea to death. And agencies, don't take it so hard. Better to hear it from them than to read about it in the paper.
Ms. Stern is executive creative director of A. Eicoff & Co., Chicago.