When you were in school, you had the perfect feedback loop: you get an assignment, get deadlines, show up to class, show your work to your professors, they give you feedback, you implement the feedback, come back the next week, rinse, and repeat until it's done.
But what you probably took for granted was that you were working with people who literally made it their career to give feedback. Individuals who had spent countless hours helping completely inexperienced, naive creatives figure out what the hell they were doing wrong. The environment was meant for feedback. The reviews were the main reason your professors were there. There were no clients. They knew that all they had to do was give you something to work with.
Rarely are creative directors trained on how to direct their creatives.
Then you stepped out of that world. Out of the perfect feedback loop, where you got clarity and precision in what was expected of you. And you jumped right into this new role, working for people who aren't always giving you the feedback you need. And you realized that you never learned to ask for it.
Bad Feedback Leads to Longer Hours
It's a sad truth, but rarely are creative directors trained on how to direct their creatives. And so, we're left with young creatives who throw ideas at a wall, hoping one will stick, because their CD "will know it when they see it."
So, we take longer to get to the finish line of a campaign. We spend more nights and weekends getting there. We spin more wheels because we don't know what our bosses want. Because they haven't figured out how to guide us where we need to go.
But anyone who lived before the era of Google Maps and GPS knows: you want to get somewhere, you need to ask for directions.
And asking for feedback is a skill in itself.
How to Get Usable Feedback
Here's the first rule, and probably the most important: never assume it's someone else's responsibility. It's on you.
Step One: Get the Expectations
Okay, let's pretend that you've been thrown on a new project. You're going to go through a couple steps: briefs (where you'll get assigned the project) and kick off meetings (when the actual work starts). These meetings are the time to get complete clarity on what it is that's expected of you on the project.
Here are some things to think about:
- Is this more conceptual or executional?
- How many solutions does your CD want to see? Or end up with?
- How built out do the solutions need to be? And by what point?
If you take charge to get clear expectations from your CD, you'll have something to aim for. This way, you'll remove any risk of falling short of what your boss might've assumed they'll see the next time you meet.
NOTE: There's always the opportunity to go beyond expectations. Don't let them limit how far you go, only set a baseline of what you should meet.
Step Two: Bring Problems and Solutions
This is the part of the process that gets scary: asking for clarification.
I've noticed a lot of people are afraid to ask questions, because they think that they'll look bad. But, then it bites them in the ass. And if they only asked, they could've avoided a pitfall later in the project. It's a balance, knowing how many questions are too many and how many aren't enough.
The truth is, your CD may not have all the answers to your questions. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't ask them. I wrote a whole article about how you need to learn to be perfect at making mistakes, and how it's more about asking questions than having answers.
But the trick is, with a CD, when you ask a question, have an answer in mind, as a suggestions. That'll do a couple things: help your CD see where your head's at, as well as help them have something to react to. Most of the time, having something to react to is all they need to get the feedback motor started.
Step Three: Guide the Conversation
Here's the secret sauce, the thing that I've found makes the biggest difference between a good review session and a waste of time.
You, as a creative looking for creative feedback, need to guide the review. Here's how:
- Give context to the meeting.
Your CD is managing a lot of projects. Make sure they know exactly what they're looking at and at what point the project is at.
- Let them know what to look for.
Is this still in the conceptual stage? Is it about fine tuning or big changes? Is your CD supposed to be analyzing the craft or execution of the piece? Do you want layout feedback? Do you think this line has potential but want to get their POV? Be specific.
- Remind them about last time.
They may not know what they said yesterday, much less last week, with the amount of work they see. Take a moment to recap and let your CD know what you've done to address their preview feedback: "Last round, you wanted me to push the line on this piece. You liked this other one, but said that it fell a little flat. So, I came up with some more options."
- Dig deeper.
"It doesn't feel right" isn't good feedback, but you'll definitely get it one day (...most days). So, if you have the time, try to dig into the feedback you get. The problem is, your CD may not know what's wrong (which isn't your fault, but it's something you'll have to deal with) or they may not be able to articulate it (same issue). Don't push to the level of annoyance. Sometimes, vague is all you'll get. And other times, it may just be a mask for "I don't like it."
If you take control of the review, and learn to ask the right questions, you'll get better answers. And the better answers you get, the faster you'll figure out how to make the work better.
Feedback is Your Responsibility, Too
Back in school, feedback was wholly on the teacher. They had way more practice than anyone else. That's why, when I teach an ad class, I make the students give feedback on every project before I do. Learning what works and what doesn't for others, and how to articulate that, helps you make your own work better.
But, most people don't get that opportunity. They've been told what to do, but not figure out how to do the same for others. And then they find themselves thrust into a role where they're expected to not only create, but guide others' creativity.
So, the reality is, you're going to have a lot of managers who are just really bad at giving feedback. You can't change them. But even the most inexperienced managers are able to answer questions.
You just need to learn how to ask them.