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Home | Be Genuine in Giving Feedback

 Sunday, August 26, 2007




Gen-u-ine adj honest and open in relationships with others


We don’t think that you, the reader, would think of yourself as being someone who is “artificial.” Would you? It is less than flattering to refer to someone as artificial. It would imply that s/he is not real but, instead, what we would call a “phony.” We certainly wouldn’t entertain, or want, to think of ourselves in that way. Yet, often our behavior when providing feedback, particularly to agency personnel, manifests itself as something less than real. We won’t pass judgment, nor should you conclude, that you are an artificial or insincere person if you lapse during certain situations such as copy meetings. We trust that is not your core being. At your core is a genuine being that needs to be freed to speak frankly and freely – to be genuine in all your dealings.


Consider this situation: the agency presents its creative work, only one storyboard, to a group of marketers, some weeks following the approval to the Creative Brief. The feedback, given by the client at the review session, is “thank you agency, we can see you have done a lot of great work. We really like that we can see our customer in the proposed advertising. And, it appears to be consistent with what customers expect from the category. However, we’re not sure you have captured the insight. Nor, do we think we understand the action depicted in the storyboard. We’re a little confused by it. Also, the reason-why is missing from the advertising. We think it is important and you should not exclude it from the message. And the key copy words don’t seem right. We’re not sure what it is about them. They just don’t connect with us. What’s more we’re wondering if there is a way to make this execution more interesting to the customer. But overall we like what you have done.”


“BS” – Which is another way of saying that while this situation is far too “real” it is also “false.” We hope we are not confusing you. The situation is real but the response is false. If you don’t think the situation is real we have captured a lot of managers on video that have provided just this kind of feedback in role-play situations to agencies. And, the feedback to the agency is patently false (as well as being rather naïve – which is an article for another time). How can the work possibly be “great” if: a) only one board has been presented; b) it looks like advertising from other brands in the category; c) it does not reflect the customer insight; d) the action is confusing; e) the benefit lacks credibility; and f) the key copy words, for whatever reason (which we cannot fathom from the direction “don’t seem right”), are not satisfactory? The client cannot possibly believe the work is great yet that is the term used with the agency.


To be a genuine person is, as the definition states, “to be honest and open in relationships with others.” We share a relationship with our agency personnel. Not saying how you truly feel about the work or what you need to see is not being sincere. It is not being true to yourself, to others (the agency), the relationship or your brand (in terms of what it deserves). Instead of nurturing the relationship it will undermine it. Instead of encouraging the development of leadership advertising it will destroy it. Instead of adding value it will devalue what others can do. It will do harm instead of help.


Unfortunately, the aforementioned kind of feedback is going to confuse agency personnel. They will work on fixing something that is broken, that the client does not believe is effective, rather than developing something that has a chance to be truly productive in the marketplace. They’ll look for another execution situation as opposed to focus on developing compelling ideas. They’ll scratch their collective heads about how to manage the customer insight. They’ll tinker with the copy words not knowing what will satisfy the client. Chances are they will come back with warmed-over strategic language taken directly from the Creative Brief. It’s doubtful those copy words will tie to a dramatization or be consistent with a creative concept (should one exist). They’ll throw in a very quick mention of the reason-why and maybe even add some visual depicting it. And, to top it off they will do it all in a single storyboard. In other words, garbage-in, garbage-out. If the feedback is garbage so will be the creative product. Additionally, subsequent meetings and presentations will be equally baffling and frustrating to both agency and client managers thereby eroding the client-agency relationship. The client will find fault with agency personnel (e.g., they lack creativity) and vice-versa (e.g., the agency will believe the client does not know what it is doing and is incapable of appreciating good creative).


The failure to provide genuine feedback will not only squander resources, produce more poor work but will damage the development of a productive relationship. We might assume that the client does not understand how to assess creative work (which might not be a bad assumption as many managers do not). But we are, for the purpose of this article, going to assume the client does know how to assess creative work but for some reason does not deliver productive direction. In this case the client does not feel the work is effective but that wasn’t what was communicated. Why the gap between knowing and doing?


One of the key reasons for not being genuine is that many mangers are fearful. They are afraid they might say the wrong thing or they will appear stupid to someone important (such as the “boss”) and, in doing so, torpedo their careers. A young marketer attending one of our recent Leadership Communication Colleges related a story about an agency presentation he attended. He stated that he was the most junior person at the meeting. Also participating was his boss, the senior product manager, his boss’s boss, the group product manager, and his boss’s boss’s boss, the vice president of marketing. The agency presented a single storyboard that lacked an idea. It was a predictable slice-of-life execution. No one on the client side spoke a word. This young manager took a risk and, as he told us, commented to the agency in the way he learned from participating in our Brand Positioning & Communications College program. He opined the need for a campaign idea, which he felt the storyboard lacked. Still no one else spoke. What courage he displayed! It’s the same kind of courage that agency personnel exhibit when they present their work. Finally, the vice president of marketing spoke and reinforced the direction given by our young friend. Bravo!


Why didn’t the product manager or group product manager speak? One of those two probably led the communication development project. The client project leader should have been the first to speak (unless there is another pecking order). But he or they were probably afraid to offer their thoughts. No one wants to deliver what here was essentially bad news. (We need to get back to work and develop ideas!) No one wants to precipitate hurt feelings and damage a relationship. No one wants to sound stupid. When one takes the lead one is exposed. So, managers have to deal with the fear of failing. And when feedback is given it is, for this very reason, often less than genuine.


Fight your fear. Be genuine. To be genuine in our feedback in the opening situation we shared with you we would have had to let the agency know that “we need to go back to the drawing board and undertake significantly more work. We need more than one storyboard. In fact we need campaign ideas, a plethora of ideas, before we can consider going to storyboards. These need to be unique, strategically appropriate BIG ideas that are capable of compelling customers to (fill in the behavior identified in the Marketing Objective). As a next step, perhaps, it might make sense for all of us to get on the same page by what we mean by BIG campaign ideas and how we should work together. As such we propose we get a date on our calendar to review what you and we believe are leadership campaigns and identify the BIG campaign idea in each. The we can progress to a tissue meeting before proceeding to storyboards, print ad comps or whatever mediums we will be using.”


We owe it to the agency, our brand, our company and ourselves to be genuine in providing feedback to the creative work.




Here are some ways for you to be genuine in giving feedback:


  1. Get in touch with your feelings – No, we are not getting soft and squishy. This is about knowing what you think! Conduct a thoughtful analysis of the work being shared with you and understand (based on your training, experiences and ability to empathize with your target customer) how you feel about it. If you don’t know how you feel about the work you will be unable to provide a genuine response. And, don’t speak until you know what you feel and think.


  1. Be true to thy self – This is not about what you believe your boss will feel about the work but how you feel about it. Don’t project your assumptions about another’s point of view or what you think others want to hear. That’s being insincere. It’s phony. And, it is inconsistent with the objective of getting to leadership communications. (There is another agenda in projecting another’s point of view. It’s typically referred to as “building brownie points.”) Tell others how you feel about the work and what, if anything, you believe needs to be undertaken. If you are true to yourself, you are being true to others. It will come through loud and clear too.


  1. Fight your fear – We all look stupid at one time or other. So what? It’s not the end of the world nor will it be the end of our careers. If you are not taking risks then it is unlikely you are growing. Think about your mistake (if we can even call it that) as something akin to a netball in tennis. It stops the play momentarily. Once an understanding is reached then play resumes. It’s not a big deal. Whether it is stated or not, people will admire you for speaking without fear. It will establish a trust that’s invaluable when working with agency personnel and other marketing support functions.


  1. Be demanding – Only leadership work is acceptable. Don’t settle for less from your agency. But you can’t be one way with them and another with yourself. One should be no less demanding of him or herself. Provide clear, single-minded direction via the collaborative development of the Creative Brief between client and agency. Don’t start on the creative work without a client and agency approved Creative Brief. Give your full attention to the development of it and subsequent creative work developed by the agency. Commit yourself to clearly articulating your thoughts about the work and what is needed to make it more productive. Do whatever it takes to add value to the creative work. Be available and make company resources available to the agency to do their best work. And for crying out loud, give the agency enough time for creative development!


  1. Be human – Being genuine in commenting on the creative work does not mean being insensitive or rude. To be genuine expresses an understanding of human psychology and fair play. Talk not about what you do not like but instead, what you need to see in the work that will make it more productive. This is being human. In doing so people will listen and try to internalize your direction as opposed to feeling threatened and pushing back. To be human is to attempt to add value versus criticize. If others don’t agree with your point-of-view a dialogue will ensue that encourages shared understanding. The end result is a better manager (in each of us), relationship (between the client and agency) and work (leadership communications).


The agency can take it. They want it. They want genuine feedback and a manager who can deliver it. They prefer to work with someone who is genuine as opposed to someone who is a phony. They know they’ll be able to do their best work this way. And that’s just one of the rewards you’ll reap for being genuine when giving feedback.

Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney

Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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