Planners and account handlers, here's a little feedback on feeding back

If you work in a creative agency the chances are that you spend a lot of time in creative reviews. You know the ones I mean. The rather crowded affairs of the entire team sitting about for what seems like days endlessly reviewing idea and idea from team after team until you find the magic. Or just keep going.

Now, before I start, I want to say that broadly this is a very positive development. When I started in advertising, in the mid-90s, all-team creative reviews were still quite rare. The far-less-inclusive creative development process would most often involve creative teams showing an executive creative director their wares behind closed doors. Then, he (always a ‘he’) would decide what work would be deemed worthy for you to post-rationalise to the client. Normally, from memory, about eight minutes before the client meeting.

So the way most reviews work in most agencies nowadays is proper progress. But this has brought its own issues. Just like interviewing people, feeding back is something we are very rarely given advice or training on. When to feed back, how to feedback, in what order and when is the right time to keep your thoughts to yourself.

Now the following suggestions/observations are mostly aimed at planners and account people. Creative teams tend to know their role and place in a creative review. They should, given its title. So here are some pointers.

It’s a creative review. The clue is in the title. Everyone’s opinion matters but some opinions (or one) in a creative review matter more than others. I have watched people (and occasionally, I admit, myself) suffer from premature opinion ejaculation. The lead creative director should speak first. Always. No exceptions. This is a creative review. The first filter is always what he or she thinks is worthy of even being commented upon. Before that filter, every other opinion is an irrelevance.

Next, work out (inside your head) what needs to be said out loud in a public review and what could be kept for a quiet word privately later. I’ve seen precious time wasted by discussing details that could easily be dealt with separately. Again, it is a creative review. That should give you a clue about what should be the focus and topics of discussion. There is a human tendency in those meetings to want to prove your value – beyond room meat. Sometimes you are just there to listen.

Next, I’ll address my main bugbear in reviews of this nature. It is what I call 'shit-tinted spectacles'. I have sat in so many reviews where all I hear are the phrases “The problem with that is…”, “Where we’ll get push back is…”, “The challenge with that idea will come…” God, it’s annoying. It is so easy to be a problem spotter. The hard bit is being a problem solver. And, as above, sometimes those problems can be easily and quickly solved outside of a group review. But basically, stop it. It’s not helpful and can actually be quite damagingly toxic. Work out what you like, find the good bits in ideas that can be built upon. Be a problem solver. It’s useful for everyone when we’re positive about what works, not focusing on what doesn’t.

Now, as humans we are hard-wired to see the negative. It’s literally in our nature. We have six primary emotions and five are negative. It is an evolutionary trait that developed to protect us from danger. But it will also unfortunately 'protect' you from getting to great ideas. And here’s why.

The same instinct that tells you something is 'wrong' is also the same early warning system that is actually really useful to sniffing out the new, the different and the potentially game-changing. If you can see 'push back' or a 'challenge' then this is a really good signal that you might be really onto something. The new makes us feel uncomfortable: Good. The different triggers alarm bells in our head: Brilliant. The unique really starts to tingle our evolutionary spidey sense: DISCO.

Ken Keir, former head of Honda and one of the best clients in the history of clients, always said that he was only interested in ideas that scared him. This is the guy who signed off 'Cog', 'Impossible Dream' and 'Grrr'. Probably a guy worth listening to about creative, right?

So next time you are in a review, look for the ideas that start to jar with you. Take notice of the idea that makes you uncomfortable or even nervous. You just might be onto a real winner.

And for God's sake, let the creative director speak first.

Kevin Chesters is chief strategy officer at Ogilvy & Mather London