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The art, science and importance of evaluating your agency’s creative output

evaluating your agency
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This post is by Stephan Argent, President of Marketing and Agency Search advisory ListenMore, and a member of the Marketing FIRST Forum, the global consulting collective co-founded by TrinityP3.

Clear, effective and unbiased evaluation of your agency’s creative product is an essential duty that must be performed by every client – but all too often, we see and hear clients who are unable to articulate their feedback properly.

It seems some clients prefer a game of charades with their agencies, rather than taking the bull by the horns and clearly articulating well considered, constructive feedback.

Why?

Is it a morbid fear of upsetting potentially fragile creative egos? Are some clients – even internal agency account management – so muddle-headed, they don’t know how to articulate feedback? Are junior or intermediate clients worried about second-guessing what their bosses might think? Or would some clients just ‘prefer’ something different – but are too shy to say so?

Whatever the reasons, poor, disjointed, indirect or vague feedback can seriously impede the success of both clients and agencies.  Poor feedback can result in:

  • Lengthy delays in finding a creative solution that’s going to hit the mark
  • Cost overruns caused by multiple creative go-arounds
  • Watered-down or ineffective creative solutions
  • Creative products that bear no resemblance to the original brief
  • Over-thought creative that’s overshadowed by detail
  • Dissatisfied and very unhappy clients
  • Demotivated and frustrated creative teams

None of that paints a pretty picture or bodes well for the longevity of the client / agency relationship.

The title of this post was inspired by Chico’s Senior Vice President, Marketing, Shelagh Stoneham who says:

“I don’t believe in democracy with creative feedback because experience matters. When evaluating creative, there’s a strategic component and emotional component. Strategic considerations can easily be evaluated but the emotional aspect is trickier. Experience and EQ both matter. The reaction has to be emotional first and rational second.”

I’ve written before on how to construct more effective briefings for agencies and our Brief Smart process can help marketers write more powerful briefs.  So today we’re launching Evaluate Smart to complete the process – designed for both marketers and agency resources looking for guidance on how best to evaluate creative.

Alan Depencier, Chief Marketing Officer, RBC Personal, & Commercial Banking and Insurance believes:

“Evaluating creative is integral to getting the best from your agency partners.  It’s part Art and part Science.  The science (and the easier of the two) is ensuring the creative is on brief meaning that it clearly articulates your strategy and objective, has a strong call to action and is on brand.  The art is less tangible and the much more difficult of the two; it’s the ability to judge whether or not the creative elicits an emotional reaction, will break through the clutter and will be memorable with your target.”

So to help get you thinking, here are some useful thought starters to help set the stage for stronger, more inspirational creative evaluation:

1. It begins with the brief

A well written brief should contain everything needed for an agency to create solutions that’ll meet your objectives.  Poorly crafted briefings will only extend the process and frustrate both you and your agencies.  Clients and agencies should know and understand the brief as well as the back of their hands and use it as the foundation for the work.

2. Be objective

While the creative may not be to your ‘taste’ per-se, the key to evaluation is to be objective and put yourself in the position of your consumer.  Ask yourself how you think they would react – and what would they do after seeing the communication?

Depencier suggests the following:

A few questions I ask myself are:  What visceral reaction did I have and others in the room?  Is the idea unique or feel new or different?  Is there a powerful insight that is being tapped into? Will it have talk value…..am I excited to tell others when I leave the room?

3. Be clear

Being clear may require you to take a minute to write down and organise your thoughts – and that’s ok (really).  Any agency would rather have considered feedback than a jumble of ‘I don’t like it’ or ‘it wasn’t what I was expecting’ or (worst of all) ‘I don’t know but I’ll know it when I see it…

4. Be honest

This seems to be one of the hardest things to do in front of peers and in larger groups when the agency is present – but it’s essential.  If something’s on your mind that’s constructive in trying to articulate a stronger solution – say it!

Depencier adds:

“Equally important is the delivery of the feedback.  Start with the positives.  What’s working, frame your feedback based on objectives and always be specific.  However if the idea is clearly not working, don’t sugar coat the feedback.  Be clear so your creative partners don’t waste their time reworking an idea they you will never support.  Clients who can articulate constructive feedback will elevate the end result and the output from their creative partners.”

5. See the big picture

Ask yourself whether the creative is on-brief, on brand and would meaningfully motivate your consumer.  Don’t let small details cloud your view of the bigger picture.  Small details can easily be addressed once the broader creative solution has been successfully articulated.

6. Let the agency do their job

Agencies are generally pretty good at bringing their ideas to life, so it’s helpful to provide direction, but not be overly prescriptive with your feedback.  Trust the process. Trust the brief. And allow a little magic into the work you’re getting produced.

TrinityP3’s Relationship Performance Evaluation service measures collaboration and alignment between marketing team agencies to maximise your collaborative output. Find out more

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Stephan Argent is a former agency planner from England, and has held senior roles in agencies in both Canada and the United States. Most recently he was Vice President of Digital Media at CTV, and is now President of Canada’s leading independent Marketing and Agency Search advisory and consultancy: ListenMore

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