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Creative Reviews: The CMO Guide to Getting These Right

Creative Reviews: The CMO Guide to Getting These Right

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Last week we covered a simple 5 question process that CMOs can use with their teams to evaluate creative. Now it’s time for the agency to present their work – how should you structure the meeting to be as productive and inspiring as possible?

Effective creative review sessions are critical to the brand and the CMO. CMOs need to be committed to stellar creative review meetings because ultimately the CMO owns the impact of customer-facing advertising and its impact on the overall customer experience. These sessions also provide a valuable multiplier effect for providing visibility and coaching to all levels in the marketing organization. The CMO speaks and acts through a megaphone, and the amplification needs to be productive!

We often see examples of what not to do:

Show up late.
Dive right into the creative without reviewing the brief.
Interrupt the creative team.
Glance at your mobile phone.
Tell the agency team you’d like something that “pops” or has “more zing”.
Leave the meeting without an agreement on next steps.

So what should you do to run an effective creative review meeting? The following is a 9 step flow you can use to have better, more successful creative review sessions.

Let’s talk a little about each step.

1 – Opening

The client needs to kick off the meeting in a manner that creates a safe, positive and welcoming environment. The agency team is probably nervous! They have spent long hours developing the creative work and they know that their work will be judged. They may view their work as an
extension of themselves. They want approval. Be warm and friendly! After all, they are working hard to help you and your team succeed.

Also, take a moment to review the meeting’s objectives. Make sure the agency clearly states what is expected and needed from you and your team.

This doesn’t need to take a long time. A warm and welcoming version of the following can do the trick:

“It’s so good to see you! I’m really excited to see the work you have developed for our brand. Let’s start by reviewing what we need to accomplish in this meeting.”

2 – Review the Brief

Next, ask the agency team to present the brief. Don’t proceed to the creative presentation without this step! Back in my Procter & Gamble years, we would never start a creative review session without the agency first reminding the group of the strategy driving the work. Back then we called it the “Copy Strategy” – but it had the same purpose as a brief: to guide the development of creative that meets the needs of the business, and to provide a framework for evaluation of the resulting work. Without this
basic step, there is no consistent path to evaluating the creative work.

3 – Agency Presents the Work

The agency team proceeds to present their work. Be attentive and engaged – but do not interrupt to provide any feedback at this point. Let them explain their vision, walk you through the work and explain why they think the work addresses the brief.

4 – Take Notes

Take notes while the agency team is presenting the work. Use the brief and the MIG SOLVE framework:

5 – Understand the Work

Ask questions to understand the work and the rationale behind the work as it relates to the brief. Does the creative work make sense to you? Is the agency’s recommendation clear? Ask clarifying questions. For example – you may like the concept but have some concerns about a key visual. You might ask “what was your thought process in choosing that visual?” The agency’s responses to your questions will provide you with a better understanding of the work and its potential.

6 – Evaluate the Work

Organize the notes you made as the work was being presented. Put yourself – as best you can – in the shoes of the target audience. Use the SOLVE framework:

7 – Challenge Yourself

Before delivering any creative feedback, ask yourself: “If I make this comment, and it is effectively accommodated by the agency, will it result in a meaningful improvement in the advertising’s effectiveness?”

Also – be sure you’re really ready before delivering any feedback. If there are multiple client team members in the room, it may make sense to take a break, huddle together and consolidate the client feedback into a single point of view.

Or – you may simply need more time. If you need more time, take it! Collect your thoughts and respond to the agency within 24 hours if the time is available in your timeline.

8 – Deliver Feedback

Start with an overall assessment. Provide your feedback in the order you evaluated the work in step 6. In an upcoming blog, we’ll provide some advice about how to deliver feedback directly and respectfully.

9 – Define Next Steps

Before wrapping up, it is important to agree on specific next steps.

And – of course – thank the agency for their efforts. This is a people business, and you want your agency team to be enthusiastic about working on your business.

The MIG Creative Review Meeting Process

That’s it! A proven process to manage creative review sessions. Summarized:


Steve Boehler, founder, and partner at Mercer Island Group has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Nokia, HP, Microsoft, Sprint, Nintendo, Abbott Laboratories, and numerous others. He founded MIG after serving as a division president in a Fortune 100 when he was only 32. Earlier in his career, Steve Boehler cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles, and Jif.