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The Wall

Things move so fast in our business that there is seldom time to reflect on what you’ve done so you can do it better next time. One of our members has a unique way to evaluate their agency’s creative product, creating an ongoing forum for improvement without taking massive amounts of meeting time. It’s called The Wall.

Here’s how it works. In their agency, they have placed at a strategic traffic point (copy machine, lunch room) a large corkboard, out of client’s view. Every time a job is completed, it is tacked onto the corkboard for all to see.

Over the following several weeks, while the job is visible on the board, and as people pass by, they make comments. No names, no commitment, just comments. “Logo too small,” “need better photo,” “great use of space,” “bad type face,” “don’t understand ad,” etc. They take apart brochures and other collateral pieces and present them as reader's spreads; they post photos of billboards. They share storyboards for TV spots, and scripts for radio commercials. Every job this agency does is put into play after it has been published.

After a couple of weeks on the board, the jobs are taken down and given to the creative director, who most likely has seen the comments already, and is already making good use of the comments for other work. We think this is a great way to solicit real opinions of a project, and to improve your creative product accordingly. Most agencies we visit do as much as they can with the creative beforehand, but they seldom take a hard look at a creative idea or execution after the fact. They are much too busy doing the next job to take time and reflect about the last one. A postmortem is very important to the process of learning to develop better creative. Try The Wall—you may find your creative product improving. It certainly is a quick and easy way to evaluate your creative work without devoting lots of time to meetings.

Better Creative

The Wall, as good as it is, does not solve all agency creative evaluation problems. There are other ways to make sure your creative product is as good as it can be. We’ve listed a few more ideas your agency can try to improve your creative product. Remember, great, effective creative is what the agency business is all about, and will continue to separate the good agencies from the mediocre. With all the competition from vendors, the media, other groups that call themselves agencies, and clients themselves, creative ideas are about all we have left to sell.

1.   First and foremost, get buy-in from the agency, and from the client, before committing to full development of a creative concept. This is a major factor in developing successful creative. We liked to work with a lot of thumbnail ideas we could place in front of other creatives, account executives, agency management, and possibly the client. This gave us a sense of what seemed right for the project. The best ideas are nothing if they can’t inspire someone to buy. Early buy-in from different people gave us confidence.

2.   Have a show-and-tell meeting at least once every two weeks. Instead of discussing agency work, have each attendee bring a copy of an ad, brochure, billboard, radio commercial, TV spot, web campaign, etc., that they found interesting or moving. You’ll be surprised how many good ideas make their way into your future creative from these meetings. Face it, most creatives are idealists. They want to live for a cause. These meetings give them a chance to “speak of revolution.”

3.   Even with The Wall, we believe agencies need to meet monthly to formally review agency work. This meeting should deal largely with achieving strategic goals and actual campaign success, rather than granular design issues like logo size or type style. The Wall is a great place to evaluate creative look. The monthly meeting should be used to evaluate effectiveness.

4.   Instead of bowing out this year because you deem the judging too political, dive in and submit your best stuff to the ADDYs. Although many agencies feel award competitions are a waste of time, we feel they serve as a sort of measuring stick as to the competitive level of your agency’s creative product. Also, your people will strive to be better if they know what they do will be judged by their peers. Need we mention the psychological effect winning creative has on your clients’ and prospects’ opinions of your creative abilities?

5.   Also consider submitting your ads to the rigors of the media’s quality standards. Most magazines have readership surveys, benchmark programs, and other evaluating methods to see how your ad fared against others in the same issue, or over a span of issues. Frankly, too many agencies don’t want to compete, or don’t care about their creative product enough to try to improve it. Agencies that want to see how their work compares with others tend to relish competition. They want to make their work the best it possibly can be.

6.   Finally, if you are brave enough, submit your creative to formal review by the client. Send the project to the client after completion, along with a client creative evaluation form. Based on the client’s constructive criticism, the agency strives to improve the quality and effectiveness of the creative product in the future. There are two drawbacks to this evaluation method. First, many corporate clients do not want to commit themselves in writing, and therefore feel uneasy about giving you a formal, written review of the project. Second, many clients don’t know how to evaluate creative work, and are not able to give you valuable constructive criticism. With the wrong client, creative evaluation can be “the kiss of death.” With the right client, however, a report card is a very valuable tool for understanding what they like and what works.

See also: Good, Better, How: Improving Your Work Project by Project

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