I’m seething right now.
We just got comments back from our client about a brochure we’d been working on. Actually a brochure that we’d been busting our butts on. We hadn’t had a lot of time to come up with something great, but we rallied around each other and made sure that we provided them with everything they’d asked be included - while delivering something we were very proud of.
A member of the client’s team had come in at the last minute with comments. That’s not so odd or unforgivable. It was the type of comments her gave us that were so unforgivable. It was just bad feedback.
That’s why I’m seething.
I’ve seen this so many times in advertising, and honestly, it never stops bothering me. There is good feedback and there is bad feedback. Bad feedback always stinks, but it stinks especially when it comes from someone who hasn’t been involved in the project until after the first round of creative and when it comes when time is running out.
He also committed what I consider to be the cardinal sin of bad feedback, but I’ll get to that in a second.
Defining bad feedback
Most bad feedback can be traced back to the creative brief.
A creative brief is the document that the advertising agency and the client signs off on before starting work on a project that includes everything the writer and art director need to know. The writer and art director then go and create what is asked for in this document, using their creative discretion to make the piece as effective as possible.
It’s an important document, and problems arise when it’s not paid the appropriate attention.
Here are just a few creative brief-related feedback mistakes:
That last one I see a lot - the first two are really just symptoms of the last one. Sometimes the first round of creative is where people realize that there were directions left unsaid, or wrong choices made earlier in the process. Sometimes the client doesn’t even know what he or she wants until seeing something to respond to.
That’s why the creative brief is so important to get right. Wasting the creative team’s time is a bad use of client’s money and the energy and goodwill of the writer and art director.
Feedback that doesn’t give direction
Then there are the non-specific types of feedback, when you hear things like:
There are so many examples of this type of feedback that websites are dedicated to celebrating the “best” of them.
I get where these are coming from. Giving feedback is hard, especially when you’re being asked to respond to something immediately after seeing it.
This type of feedback, however, is just not helpful. Part of the reason for that is that it doesn’t identify an actual issue but speaks to an overall feeling the feedback-giver is having. Another reason is that it’s not coming from the perspective of the target audience.
When clients think they’re writers
The worst kind of feedback, in my mind, however, is when the feedback giver tells you what she wants you to do. No identifying issues that need to be resolved, no direction to what she feels needs to be better accomplished. No reasons why something should be said that isn’t being said, and no goal given as to what these changes are hoping to accomplish.
Just “This should say this, I want a picture of this here, and take that out.”
This client is taking over creative control, making the decisions that they have already contracted us to make.
As a creative person, that’s insulting. This is my job, I think about this more everyday than most people do in a year.
And in terms of giving me direction, it does nothing for me. I might be able to accomplish what you want to accomplish in a better way than you’re suggesting if you would just tell me what you want to accomplish. Or in other words, “Don’t tell me how to fix it. Just tell me what’s wrong. I’ll figure out how to fix it.”
Often, when I get this kind of feedback, it creates another issue that the client didn’t consider. It also takes longer to provide an updated version, because I need to spend more time deciding what the actual problem they want me to address is, then I have to try to forget their solution so that I can come up with one that works.
RELATED: The challenges of being a professional writer
Dealing with bad feedback
So what can you do? I know it seems outside of the realm of a writer to tell somebody how to get feedback, but the truth is there are things you can say and do to make this whole process run smoother.
1. Assume positive intent.
Even though I'm seething right now because the feedback my client gave me is really insulting to me, I'm going to go ahead and assume that he doesn't know that what he saying is affecting me this way. That he didn't mean to insult me. And that he's a nice guy.
You know, he may not be a nice guy. In my experience, though, that’s unlikely. Throughout my career, I've really only dealt with one client who seemed to get a kick out of making my job harder or saying things that seemed purposefully insulting.
Every other time I've been upset with the type of feedback I received, as we went back-and-forth to find a solution, I realized that there was no ill will intended. It's just really hard for some people to give useful feedback.
2. Get to the core of what they're saying.
If a client says something along lines of “it feels boring,” what they're really saying is that there needs to be more emotion within the copy or the copy needs to highlight the product attributes with greater excitement.
If the feedback is along the lines of "you shouldn't say this, that should say that," look for the theme of what each suggested change is. Maybe you're being asked to replace a conversational tone with a more technical tone. That would suggest that your client is concerned about using the correct jargon.
If you are starting to work with someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience giving feedback, you may want to share this article with them. It could help you both.
If you are currently working with someone who does this sort of thing, I’m sorry. Keep your head up and hope that things get better.
And if you have any tips or techniques for dealing with this kind of feedback, share it in the comment section below.