How to Give Constructive Feedback

Part of the How to Make Advertising Better Series

Constructive Feedback
Constructive Feedback. Getty Images

There are many ways to make advertising better; and not just the end product. The entire process of advertising, from the brief to the interactions with clients and consumers, can be so much better.

Here, the spotlight is on something that not only improves the finished work, but the process, the agency morale, and the quality of the thinking involved.

  • It costs absolutely nothing to implement.
  • It needs no extra equipment.
  • It needs little-to-no additional training.

This force for good is constructive feedback, and if you do it correctly, you can vastly improve the quality of the creative work, boost morale, and make the whole agency a better place to work. 

What is Constructive Feedback?

That may seem like a dumb question, but it's a necessary one to ask. The answers industry professionals give vary greatly. They include:

  • Feedback that's positive
  • Feedback or advice delivered in a friendly way
  • Feedback that's brutally honest
  • Feedback that makes the work better
  • Feedback that redirects the work

To be fair, all of those could be included in constructive feedback, but one alone is incorrect. Truly constructive feedback:

  • Is honest, but it's not delivered in a bitter or harsh way.
  • Is positive without being fluffy or pulling punches.
  • Makes the work better without doing it at the expense of team morale.
  • Redirects the work to be on brief, not to fulfill selfish motives.
  • Offers genuine advice and feedback on all the ideas presented.
  • Gives the people working on the project a defined direction in which to go.

HOW You Critique is Just as Important as WHAT You Say.

This is, without​ a doubt, the most important part of constructive feedback, and it's a fundamental part of advertising as a whole.

HOW you say something is as important as WHAT you're saying. Even if the end result is the same, the journey to it can make or break the campaign.

Look at these two approaches:

NEGATIVE ELIMINATION

Five ideas are presented by the creative team to the creative director, or the client. What happens next is a process of elimination that seeks to get rid of the worst ideas and leave one standing.

"I hate number two, it's way off. Number three is boring. Number one is too risky. Number four has been done before. OK, let's go with idea five."

The result of this kind of feedback is soul-destroying to the creative team, and the agency. To pick the "least worst" idea is not going to energize any creative team into developing a great campaign. And seeing the other four ideas get lined up and shot, that's a kick in the gut. It leaves a bad taste and the feelings at the end of the meeting are negative all around. This approach can doom a project to mediocrity, and breed resentment.

NOW, look at the same end result using a different method:

POSITIVE SELECTION

Five ideas are presented by the creative team to the creative director, or the client. They are received well, and a passionate and energized debate takes place concerning the ideas:

"I think two is brave. It may be too brave for us right now, but excellent thinking. Number one is even more out there, and it's great to see you pushing the brand like that. Four is something we tried before, and we want to try something new. That's why my favorite idea is five. It's focused, original, inventive and memorable. I say we push five forward and really make an impact."

The end result is virtually the same. In both instances, idea FIVE is chosen. But the way it was chosen has a great deal of impact on the people working on the project. In the first example, the creative are reluctant to even work on the project after the verbal drubbing they received. Not only did they receive no really helpful feedback, they are left with the thought that idea five was just not as bad as the other four ideas.

In the second example, idea five is still moving forward, and the other four ideas have been eliminated. BUT, the ideas were eliminated for specific reasons, and idea five was chosen to be the best of the bunch, not the least poor. That's what keeps people passionate about the work they do, day in, day out.

Moving Forward - Think Positive

If there's one thing you take from this article, it should be this:

"The next time you review work, think about how to choose the best idea, not eliminate the bad ones and select the ones left standing."

Do that, and the whole agency will suddenly become more enthusiastic about the work being done.It's one small step for an agency; one giant leap for the work being done.