If there’s one constant in the thousand-plus workshops we have conducted all over the world, it has to be our insistence upon use of the Coaching Model. That simple four-step best practice for making any work more productive, taking any work to the next level. We say “simple” only to highlight how easy the four steps are to remember:
- Always provide an overview of the entire work;
- Specify parts of the work that are particularly well-done;
- Next, offer specific direction to make the work more productive (not to point out “what’s wrong”); and
- Summarize clearly the next steps.
Easy to remember, but without much practice–as in regular, routine use whether assessing strategic or creative kinds of work–not at all easy to do exceptionally well. We’ve often been asked how we became rather proficient in consistently coaching this way. This week we take you back to that “school” where learned not only how to coach productively, but why to coach productively…that school being Procter & Gamble.
To bring our coaching origins to life after so many years, we’ve selected just one exemplary memo, from circa 1978. Penned by a longtime, even somewhat legendary, Copy Production Services P&Ger named Miner Raymond, you’ll easily hear both the how and why of disciplined coaching–in this case, aimed at the Company’s ad agency partners.
“COMMENTING ON AGENCY SUBMISSIONS”
“At the outset, it must be recognized that a creative presentation is unlike any other sort of business relationship or informational presentation by an Agency. First, creative people are directly involved; and creative peoples’ egos are inevitably intertwined with their work. To a great degree, the writer sees himself/herself (not just a TV storyboard) up there on the display rack for presentation, and he or she can’t help construing any sort of attack on a storyboard and an attack on him or her. That’s an inescapable part of the creative personality.
Beyond that, non-creative presentations involve generally factual and indestructible material. It’s impossible to nit-pick or fine tune the figures on certain counties–the numbers are either right or they aren’t. On the other hand, creative work is not precise, is inexact, and is capable of being criticized at every comma or article, on a basis of personal taste.
The reason this whole subject is important is because our agencies want to put their best creative people on our business. Often (not always, of course) the best creative people are the most sensitive people, largely due to their long years of success and therefore confidence in their own capabilities. Such creative people are easily overwhelmed and made to feel worthless, or worse, disrespected by a too detailed criticism of their work.
What can we do? At least the following:
- Let’s make sure the Agency always knows, at the outset of our comments, how we feel overall about the advertising, their work. Obviously, no Agency is going to bring worthless advertising to Cincinnati; by the act of putting storyboards on the plane, they must feel they have something good. We should at least try to discover the good in what they have brought–as a constant indicator that we are serious and appreciative students of their work. This doesn’t say we should ever praise bad or off-the-mark work. If an overall presentation misses the mark, the Agency needs to hear that at the outset, and in a broad general overview.
- Also, following the overall assessment, try to find something/things praiseworthy about the work…not only to mitigate the inherent defensiveness of typical creative types, but to verify that we are capable of recognizing good work, and appreciative of it.
- P&G thoroughness is a virtue, but let’s avoid the temptation to carry that through in our specific comments, our direction for making the work even better. It is quite literally possible to construct a two-hour comment about a :30 commercial, by the time we get to VII, E, 1, a, (2), f. This is, in fact, what we often refer to as true “nit-picking”; to the creative person we sometimes appear to be striving to be one nit-pick up on the last person who commented. And the more we nit-pick the more we create the perception that we cannot distinguish between directions that might well make an idea work harder and those that will matter very little in the advertising’s success.
The cure here is simply to decide, yourself, where the line is to be drawn between substantive and non-substantive comments. There are some comments that simply don’t need to be made; they won’t move one box more of laundry detergent or cake mix. Restraint in the nit-picking department will bring huge dividends in enthusiasm and morale among the creatives.
Does this mean we have to shut up and swallow comments? Of course not. It simply means we should learn to discriminate between comments that are truly important and may well affect either the success of the advertising or the sales of the brand–and those comments which simply satisfy our own personal tastes and predilections.”
So, in this 1978 memo you can see (1) the Overview, (2) the Find Something to Like, and (3) the Substantive/Make Work More Productive Comments or Direction. The only step you don’t hear in this particular memo is that fourth step: Summarize the Next Steps, always a last-thing-to-do-before-you-adjourn discipline. And while Miner Raymond’s “coaching” is aimed at creative submissions from a communications agency, we were trained to follow the model in every aspect of the brand’s business. Why? To keep making any work better, and to keep motivating those who are charged with carrying out that work. Old model, but still tried and true.
Make your coaching matter more! You can’t coach what you can’t assess. Read Richard’s new book, AVOIDING CRITICAL MARKETING ERRORS: How to Go from Dumb to Smart Marketing. Learn what you need to know here: http://bdn-intl.com/avoiding-critical-marketing-errors
Stay safe and be well,
Richard Czerniawski and Mike Maloney