Reviewing Creative Work – The Forest and the Trees

As marketers, we wear many hats. Each day, our attention is stretched across plans, campaigns and project deadlines. We’re also called upon to review creative content such as draft copy, designs and layouts before sign off.

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Creative work is built on an idea that is expressed in both copy and illustrations as a unit. Evaluating creative material under short notice, however, can be a challenge – like moving through unfamiliar terrain teeming with new vegetation, foliage and, let’s face it, some weeds.

The piece that you’re reviewing may not reflect what you exactly had in mind. Something might not be “quite right”, but how do you put your finger on the root of the problem? I find that addressing strategic and tactical issues separately during the review process can greatly help reduce time and effort:

The forest: this is the Big Picture, or strategy. Does the product differentiator come across clearly? Is the message expressed in a way that resonates with the audience you’re trying to reach? If not, the problem could be that the copy strategy isn’t built on the right value proposition. Or perhaps, it wasn’t properly communicated to your agency partner.

The trees: these are the execution details. Take a look at the message structure and the elements that go into the work: does the reader’s eye flow naturally across the various components? Is there visual unity overall? How about the selected typeface: is it legible on screen? Does the color scheme support the look and feel that was specified in the copy platform?

You’ll be surprised at how easily your agency partner can fix the low-level execution details that you’ve identified. And when the next stage of revisions comes — with execution flaws out of the way — it suddenly becomes much easier to see if the piece is aligned with strategy.

If after that, however, flaws or disagreements persist, chances are that the real issue is strategic. It may be time to reevaluate the positioning and the value proposition that you want to convey. Perhaps the message should focus on a more meaningful differentiator, or target a slightly different audience.

But at the end of the day, looking at strategy and execution details separately from each other facilitates constructive criticism, and can even turn a mountain into a molehill.