Sep 18, 2019

Great Creative is Your Responsibility. Really.

By: Susan Curhan


Great creative is a delicate balance between freedom and control. Most marketers give too much freedom on the strategy and then want to control the creative execution. It should be the reverse. You want to control the strategy and give freedom to the creative team for the execution. 

The best creatives are problem solvers, not blue-sky thinkers. They are motivated by the challenge of a tightly-defined problem more than by the execution of a simple solution. The role of your creative brief is to tightly define the opportunity with enough constraints to define the problem well and enough room for the creatives to move around and develop great work. 

Three Things Creatives Don’t Want

  1. Free Reign: They need a problem to solve. Give them a good one.
  2. Too Much Information: Don’t give them endless data. Don’t give them “just in case” information and scenarios. They need focus from you or you’ll soon wonder why the end product isn’t tightly focused.
  3. Your Solutions: Oops! We’ve all tried to be helpful. Be helpful by collaborating on a good creative brief and then give structured and expert feedback on the creative itself. 

When creatives are close, steer them closer. When they are not close, rephrase the problem to be solved. Then, love the work: Be passionate, challenge the work to be better, take chances, reward effort, and celebrate success together.

Remember that done is better than perfect. So often we get hung up on getting everything to 100% and we waste the time it could be out in the marketplace getting results. Anything north of 80-90% is good for most efforts. The cost/benefit of getting to 100% is mostly detrimental to ever getting things shipped.

Why’d I Get Bad Creative?

You got the creative concepts back, and you don’t like them. Here are three common reasons clients believe they get bad creative:

1. “It’s Me”—If only I was better at creative!

  • Leading a successful creative process takes skill. You hired a skilled agency, they need a skilled client partner. Find a mentor, join a marketing group, practice reviewing creative and giving feedback, and definitely ask your agency how they think about creative. You can get better. 
  • You don’t realize it is your place to lead. You figure the agency is the expert—that’s why you’re paying them—so you give them free reign (aka, no direction). Or, you give them the chance to mess up, and blame them later.
  • You settle for something you hate, maybe due to pressure, or because you don’t know why you hate it. It seems okay for now. The agency tells you if you don’t launch it now you’ll miss the due date.
  • You can’t sell it to your boss. It’s your responsibility to make sure the creative is the right approach so you can sell the idea/creative. Tell them how it works for your brand and how it delivers the strategy.

2. “It’s My Agency”—If only I had a better agency!

  • Your agency wrote a creative brief you didn’t like, you don’t know how to assess if it’s good, or you forced them into a strategy they didn’t support. No surprise, bad creative is on its way! If either of you force a strategy on the other, you’re off to a bad start. Start talking and get on the same page.
  • You got hoodwinked by the creative team with the “we are so excited” pitch. You’re not sure what you need, so you settle for the best concept in front of you—even if you know it’s not great.
  • You lose connection with the agency. Agencies want to make great work. Let them. Keep them motivated so you become the client they want to make the best work for.
  • You lose traction through the production process. If the tone changes from the concept to the final creative, then so does your advertising, website, direct marketing, etc. Make sure the final work reflects the vision in the brief.

3. “It’s My Brand”—If only I had a better brand!

  • You think you work on a boring brand. You may think that “cool” brands like Apple and Uber are so much easier to work on. Think again, because your “boring brand” has much more room to maneuver. 
  • You are too careful with your brand. Good creative stakes out a position. The middle of the road is the riskiest move of all, no one might notice you. 
  • You play creative roulette. When marketers don’t do the proper depth of thinking on their brand, the creative brief becomes a game of chance. The creative, and brand, goes round and round looking for the right idea.
  • Your strategy is weak. You figure if you don’t have a great strategy, then great advertising creative might help. If creative is an expression of strategy, then maybe your strategy is just bad. Look back at your creative brief and see where you went wrong.

Great creative comes from a great partnership built on well-honed skills. Work on yours and the creative you get from your agency will improve.  


Previously, Part 1: Want The Best Creative From Your Agency? Be A Better Client.

Next up, Part 3: The Creative Review

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