Why read this? : We look at the different types of agency and client people who attend the creative review meeting. Learn how to stop this ideas presentation meeting ending up as a car crash. Read this for ways to improve the way the creative review meeting works.
They say only 2 things are certain. Death. And taxes. Well, in marketing, there’s a third certainty. That’s the inevitable car crash of the creative review meeting between the marketing agency and client.
You can’t really call yourself a marketer until you’ve survived one of these.
For the client, it’s part of their approval process. They have to manage agency expectations and those of internal approvers.
For the creative team, it’s about putting their creative souls on the line in front of the client. The marketing decision maker. Or more likely decision makers, plural. Decision makers with varying levels of creative feedback skills. And one eye on how much it’s all costing.
The Agency Creative Team
There’s generally 2 types of creative team. Rebels. And luvvies.
3 things give rebels away.
Their hair. (Beards for men and dyed hair for women). Their visible tattoos. And their choice of footwear. F*ck-me Doc Martens or Birkenstocks.
Oh, and no socks. (Seriously, what’s with that?)
And within 5 minutes of meeting them, also recognised by their complete disregard for how businesses actually work.
But hey, they’re gritty and in touch with what’s happening ‘on the street’. Which let’s face it, most clients won’t be. Though who really wants to be on the street is a question for another day.
Inspired by a combination of Ru Paul, Patsy from Ab Fab, and Niles Crane.
These fashionista-types flounce flamboyantly around the agency, dazzling you with their energetic radiance, while simultaneously drowning you in meaningless thrown-together bullshit.
There’s a rare few creatives who don’t fit these admittedly broad stereotypes. But they’re the exceptions which prove the rule.
It seems to be a rule in agencies that the more alternative the creative team, the more impressed the client will be. And generally the problem in these meetings isn’t necessarily the creative teams themselves. It’s how these creative teams’ styles rub up against the more business-led styles of the client.
These also come in 2 types.
The Client Team
So, it’s not unusual as a client to be asking questions like “How much will it drive sales?” and “what’s the advertising impact on profits?”
The numbers matter more than the creativity to commercially-minded clients.
For them, the creative review meeting can feel like an exercise in burning money.
What they’re really thinking is who are all these people? Do we really need them? Am I paying for all of them to be here? How much is this costing me?
However, asking cost questions during a creative review is like asking your local coffee shop barista about the political situation in Nicaragua (or wherever your beans come from).
Not necessarily a bad question. Just asked to the wrong audience in totally the wrong context.
Wannabe creative clients
In most businesses, marketers secretly (or not so secretly) like to think of themselves as the ‘coolest’ function in the business.
Rather than looking at spreadsheets and invoices all day (yes, you, finance) or spending their time talking about warehouses, trucks and boxes (hello, supply chain), marketers get to go on photo and film shoots. They read and comment on scripts. Look at casting reels. And make decisions on music for their advertising.
That’s cool, right?
Except, what really happens is many marketers get into their head they’re the next Steven Spielberg. But actually, their creative skills mean they’re more like Steven Seagal. Good at making noise and causing damage, but not much more than that.
The creative review - buckle up!
So, setting the scene for this car crash of a meeting. We’re at the proposal stage of the advertising development process.
The creative team have worked 2 weeks solid of late nights scouring Google, sorry, being ‘creative’ (!).
They’re ready to roll with a raft of images, artwork and scripts to bring the creative idea to life. But here’s what typically happens next :-
(a) Rebel creatives and commercial clients
The ‘commercial’ client looks at the hair/tattoo/shoes. They instantly decide the creative team were dragged out of a skip behind some dodgy pub earlier that morning.
The bold and brash creative ideas of the rebel team draw dubious looks from the client. The client says they don’t believes the ideas will appeal to the ‘heartland’ of the target audience.
Rebel creative team leave vowing to piss in the client’s drink before the next creative review in a “Stick it to the man” homage to Fight Club.
The advert is produced in a huffy and half-hearted way. ‘Lets just get the damn thing out the door’ say the agency account team. The ad generates low to medium sales, but wins no awards.
It’s forgotten in a month.
(b) Rebel creatives and wannabe creative clients
The ‘wannabe creative’ client likes the hair/tattoos/shoes. But they feels decidedly uncool with their own regular haircuts/business suits/sensible shoes.
‘Hey, do you think (insert A-list film star) would be interested?’ and ‘wouldn’t (A-list rap star) be a great music choice for this?’.
A few days later, back in the calm of the office, the client realises the budget will only cover about 10% of the ideas list. The board would likely also fire them for risking the company’s reputation. There’s zero chance of the idea making it though approvals.
The client sends a bullet-point follow-up email of what’s acceptable back to the agency. This ignores 95% of the ideas from the creative review.
The advert eventually comes out only loosely connected to the original idea. It’s watered down to make sure it doesn’t rock the boat. It might end up winning a Bronze medal at some regional marketing awards ceremony nobody really cares about.
The ad is forgotten in 3 months.
(c) Luvvy creatives and commercial clients
This goes one of 2 ways. Luvvy creatives are capable of being highly charming. If the timing of the moon and sun and their biorhythms, is right, they dazzle the commercial client with a big super impressive idea.
The client loses their bearings and forgets to ask all the normal business questions they normally ask. The ad goes on to drive record sales and wins multiple awards.
That maybe happens 2% of times.
The other 98% of times, the commercial client starts getting more and more irate. Why aren’t you answering our questions? How much will that cost? What impact will it have on sales?
Eventually they blow up like a volcano asking for the creative team to be replaced by someone who knows what they’re doing. There are threats to re-pitch the whole business.
Nobody wins in this creative review scenario.
Often rebel creatives are brought in at this point, because at least they’ll get something done.
(d) Luvvy creatives and wannabe creative clients
On paper a match made in heaven. Both parties understand the artistic imperative in creating great advertising. But it soon runs into a problem. Because luvvy creatives often take one look at the wannabe creative clients and think how can this uncultured oik have any idea of what makes my art so great?
Luvvy creatives then ignore or are secretly sarcastic about the views of the wannabe creative clients. The client is so caught up in the creative process, they don’t spot the idea disappearing up its own backside.
End result, an overblown mess of an advert. It might win a creative award (as they’re voted on by other creatives mostly), but it drives few sales because they forgot to add a clear call to action. Nobody except the luvvie creative speaks of the campaign ever again.
We may, just may, have exaggerated some of these scenarios for effect.
But really, not too much.
Ways to minimise the crash
So, if you know all this, how do you stop it happening? Short answer is you can’t. All you can do is minimise the impact of the crash when it happens.
There’s just no hard and fast rules. You’re trying to control a bunch of people with completely different backgrounds, objectives and working styles. That’s a hard challenge to manage to deliver an amazing advertising campaign.
But to minimise the damage of this car crash of a meeting, here’s 3 things that can help.
Prepare the route in advance
Nothing creates a car crash faster in these creative review meetings than the client being surprised. Or getting an idea that ignores what was in the brief.
Re-send all the key documents (especially the brief) to the relevant people the day before the meeting.
This acts as a reminder of the meeting purpose. It reminds the client their role at this stage is to pull together great creative feedback. And it reminds the creatives what the client is expecting. If they plan to present something unexpected, they should at least give the client fair warning. This can save major disasters.
Creative teams seem to love the ‘big reveal’ in these meetings. One agency we worked with would literally put ideas up on wall behind a curtain and whip it back dramatically to show the ideas off.
Most of the marketing team hated this. Overdramatic nonsense. And it really puts clients on the spot and leaves them no time to think.
Decide who's got the wheel and make sure no-one else touches it
It should be obvious to all who’s the running the process in the room. That person has a key role to play in managing the business side and the creative impact.
This doesn’t always have to be the person with the most important job title (in fact, it’s usually a mess when it is). Having a process leader (or even one client and one agency lead working together) can really help when the meeting heads towards the inevitable brick wall.
They can steer the meeting back in the right direction hopefully or …
When you see the crash coming, brake and get out
If all else fails, and you can see one of the above scenarios panning out, just stop. Take a breath, time works wonders. If you let people mentally process what’s happened, you can reconvene again at a later time.
It’s only a fricking advert after all. No-one should be left feeling like a burnt out wreck just for that.