You’ve devoured the creative brief. Done the competitive research. Reviewed the benchmarks. Brainstormed with your peers. Spent hours crafting the copy and design. And now comes the scariest moment:
Asking the client for feedback.
Creative professionals can relate to the trepidation of entering such a meeting… will the client love it? Will they hate it? Every creative execution, from ad to commercial to point of sales collateral, is designed to make an emotional connection with the consumer. So it’s not surprising that the individuals who make those materials are likewise putting their heart and soul into the work. And after laboring and getting it to the point where you think it is simply perfect, it can be heartbreaking to have the client hate it or, even worse, not understand it.
But feedback is a critical part of the process and it’s not always going to be positive. Here’s a couple tips and tricks from a 20-year creative veteran who’s had his heart broken more than once.
- Focus on the goals—remember that the point of feedback is to improve the final product. The client by definition is closer to the product or service than you are, so they will have insight and ideas that you might not. Listen to the feedback in the spirit that it’s given.
- Get in the right headspace—mentally prepare yourself, try to be open and receptive to the client’s feedback. The goal is to hear and understand; don’t interrupt or immediately start to defend your design decisions. Listen first.
- Don’t make that face—if it’s in-person feedback try to remain neutral while he or she delivers comments. Give your brain a minute to process it. Try not to let your emotions show—if you wrinkle your nose like you just smelled something bad two minutes into the feedback session it’s only going to go downhill from there.
- Break it down—ask questions until you’re sure you understand what the root issues are with the work. Don’t make assumptions about motivations or expectations, get explicit answers.
Even by following the guidelines above, feedback can still be stressful and demoralizing if the client doesn’t love the work as much as you do. However, in those times of trial, remember these three feedback truths:
It’s Not Personal
It certainly can FEEL personal when a client craps all over the concept that you’ve worked on for weeks. But unless your client is a real jackass he’s not trying to tear you down personally, he’s trying to tell you why the work isn’t working for him. Also, some people just aren’t good at articulating their thoughts and feedback may come across as more blunt or harsh than they intended.
You Are Not Your Work
Creative people tend to get emotionally invested in their work, meaning that sometimes your sense of self worth becomes entwined with the project at hand. If the project is failing it means I’m failing! No, it doesn’t. Your worth as a creative professional and human being isn’t defined by the work you do. Separate your professional life from your life.
We Will Never Know Everything
Hopefully the client will be honest and transparent with their feedback, but chances are we’ll never know the whole story. When he or she baulks at the cost of a nicer paper stock maybe it’s because the last person to go over budget got fired. If he’s short and peevish with his comments, maybe it’s because he had an argument with this wife this morning. The client will always have pressures that we won’t know about. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
Feedback sessions can be painful when they go south—but they can also be exciting, uplifting and energizing when the client loves the work! Here’s wishing you more of the latter and the strength to endure the former!
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