Sunday, March 31, 2013

What's The Best Way To Give Feedback?


My theory is that successful feedback comes down to 'saying no in an inspirational way.'

No one needs lessons in how to say yes. Saying yes is easy, and fun.

But most of the time - since 99% of ideas, ads, headlines etc are not bought - we are saying no. 

The first requirement is clarity.

Years ago, I remember working for a really nice CD. Everything we presented, he liked. And the result was terrible. We came out of meetings not knowing if he'd bought anything. Sometimes, we needlessly carried on working (wasting time we could have spent working on other briefs) when he was already happy. Other times, we put our pens down, only to find out a few days later that he wasn't happy with anything, and we now had just 24 hours before the client meeting to crack a new idea.

So if it's a no - which most of the time it will be - make sure your 'no' is crystal clear.

Give the reason, e.g. work not on brief, wrong tone for the brand, or 'right' but just not that good.

The last of those is the hardest to deliver. 

Humour can help. One of my old bosses, Jeremy Craigen at DDB London, was a noted rejectionist. "That's a good ad," he used to say. "For Ogilvy Bratislava, maybe." I guess what he was communicating was: "We have high standards here, and this work doesn't meet them. You need to start again completely. However, I still like you."

But as well as being clear, your 'no' should also be at least mildly inspirational. 

You don't want a team walking away depressed, or not sure what to do next. Either of those is a disaster.

You want the team walking away feeling inspired.

So what inspires?

Mainly, a feeling that this brief could lead to great work. Often, a brief seems unpromising and the team can't see their way through to a good idea. So telling them about a good idea that was done on a similarly unpromising brief, perhaps in the same category, or to a similar proposition, can work well.

Another of my old bosses, Adam Kean at Saatchi & Saatchi, did it beautifully once. We showed him some rubbish ads, and he said nothing for a bit. Then he asked us: "Have you seen this?" and he played Tony Kaye's latest TV ad, which we hadn't yet seen. Nothing further needed to be added. His message was: "Advertising at its best can be great. We all want to reach that standard, don't we? Please try again."

But of course, as well as setting the bar, you should be giving the team a steer on how to jump over it. Whether you're a CD, a planner, an account handler or a client, you can't consider that your job is to keep saying no to bad ideas until you're shown a good one. Advertising is a difficult, iterative process that requires constant constructive feedback. That means you must always have suggestions to add. If you don't, how can you justify drawing a salary?

Just make sure (obviously) that the suggestions are good ones! Good means clear, and presented as a challenge for the team to answer in their own way, not an 'answer' for them to execute the way you've told them to.

Anyway, I'm giving a talk next week on 'how to give feedback', and as you can see, what I've got so far is pretty flimsy, so do please help me out and let me know in the comments section any examples of feedback you've experienced done well or done badly.


Anonymous said...

Hey, Scamp

I have a (real time) case for you (it’s almost on subject) - Have you ever been in a situation where you need to sell stuff to the client but you are sure that it is NOT on brief... it’s not a concept but just a (fucking!) nice picture...

A colleague of mine worked alone on a project, he was sure that he can sell it but now he can not go to the presentation... which the client doesn't want to reschedule ... so they picked me to sell the “idea”... and I don’t know what to do... so what would Scamp do?

Scamp said...

Sheesh, what do you think this is - a free advice service?!

Okay, here's what I would do. If you are convinced the idea is not on brief, you need to tell that to whoever the 'they' that picked you to sell it is. When they hear that you don't believe in the idea, and wouldn't feel confident defending it, they will no doubt re-schedule the meeting to a time when the originator can attend. Or find someone else to take the hospital pass.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Scamp!

I already did all of this... still on the project though. Sorry that I’m using you out of subject it’s like a scene that I remember - Robert De Niro is selling knives to a guy. The guy listens and after the demonstration says: “You got any kayaks?”

And De Niro says: “You gotta be outta' your fuckin' mind, "kayaks"?!?”

And the guy says: “I could use some kayaks.”

Sorry again but I could use some kayaks :))))

“Scamp helping line” - it could be huge! Think about it...

Unknown said...

You need to re do the ad or change shop quickly.

Anonymous said...

"Whether you're a CD, a planner, an account handler or a client, you can't consider that your job is to keep saying no to bad ideas until you're shown a good one."

I'll second that, particularly lower-middle-managers that would be better suited to a job fixing potholes, at least they'd get more done.

I find positive reinforcement works extremely well for me. I tell them 'I know you can do better than that', wait for all the usual excuses about not having enough time, bad hair days or shit planning, then I hold them to it. 'I know you can do better than that because I've seen you do better than that. And I want you to do better than that on this brief. etc etc.

Also important – picking your battles (can't win gold on every brief and should aim to a standard, but not exhaust the teams) and having a traffic director who is not going to complain certain teams are busy so she can look after her little favourites. I lost two good teams to a bad traffic director – never again.

So in short: Believe in them, be kind to them and keep politics and bias as far from them as possible – if a team isn't performing well it's probably because some nasty cock is giving them grief when you're not around.

Anonymous said...

Best teams win. Best ideas win. No bias. No 'it's not fair they got to do xyz.' Advertising isn't a fairness contest and there's no award for trying at Cannes. Make that clear and everyone will pick up their game.

daniel said...

I find it pretty simple: Good feedback always makes the work better, bad feedback doesn't.

Sm said...

If something's really bad, to keep from demoralising them, I sometimes use - "this is OK, but I've seen what you're capable of and I know you can do something much better."

Radovan Grežo said...

wait a minute! are you ripping on my hometown's Ogilvy?!
then again, I like to tell my folks always "let's save that idea for when you work at a different agency"

btw, I loved your old old post on how to respond to your creative partner in a way that won't drive him/her to tears. I'd suggest you'd integrate it into your talk on feedback. that was gold.

Jim Powell said...

There is a neat idea on this topic in Dan Pink's new book- To Sell is Human. I am not sure if it would fit for you.

The idea is that people aren't binary i.e. yes or no.

So ask them a question and get an answer on a scale.

So in your world. On a scale of 1 to 10 how sure are you that idea crack the brief? (You can probably think of better questions).

Then here's the counter intuitive bit. What ever they score, say 6. Ask why not lower? This makes them explain their score and what needs to be done to move it up the scale.

Kathy Reeves said...

Hey, Scamp

Lots of good thoughts here. I do a feedback workshop in London. Here are some headlines:

Recognize if you are offering feedback or criticism.

Feedback is informative, it’s grounded in things you can both observe. Its goal is to improve the situation. It’s less emotional and it’s based on your analysis of the situation.

Criticism is the expression of disapproval and the goal is to point out perceived faults or mistakes. Criticism is your opinion and is usually judgemental

5 top tips to successful feedback
Stay Positive
Keep it real - Discuss things that are tangible that you can both observe.
Stick to what you’re asked to comment on
Keep it conversational
It’s not personal

Finally, but maybe most important, offer feedback on the problem, not the solution.

If the team understand the issues, the way they solve it will be much more imaginative then the solution that pops into your head in the few minutes you've had to review.

Scamp said...

Good stuff, Kathy. Finally someone on this blog who knows what they're talking about! :)

Anonymous said...

You could always use Ben Kay's latest post to explain what CD's are really saying.

Here it is, courtesy of


On Twitter today a CD friend of mine said that ‘still in the mix’ actually means ‘no one is taking that idea seriously anymore’.



It is what it is = It is shit

The director’s working on a movie = He’s watching Jeremy Kyle but he doesn’t like your script

Can we see how it works in digital? = We’d like it to die

We haven’t heard back yet = Dead

Interesting (1) = Pretty good

Interesting (2) = shit

Keep going = I hate what you’ve done so far

Can we get more time on this? = Your work smells of poo

Urban dictionary said...

Very interesting post. Feedback should not be so negative and personal but should be real.