Responding to Your Creatives

I received this note from a friend recently:  “I’d love to see you comment on how to give feedback to creative types. I just had a client give me an hour to write a script with no direction. Two days later, I heard that it was ‘terrible and to rewrite it.'” My friend’s note hit home, because I’ve certainly worked for difficult clients. Nothing could be more counterproductive to getting creative results than slapping down your writer, designer, media director, or other creative staff member. How should you respond? If you know someone having trouble supervising creative employees, pass these tips along:

1. Don’t be vague. Most bosses ask for creative work in incredibly general terms and then get upset that the creative doesn’t nail it the first time. Creative writing, designing, video editing, or anything else is like stabbing in the dark. Unless we have some direction, we’re likely to miss the mark. And what if you don’t know what you want? Then admit it. We’re happy to help. And when that happens, be more understanding when we don’t get it right the first attempt. Creativity is collaborative, and the most innovative companies know how to support each other and work together.

2. Give your people the right tools. God can make a diamond from a lump of coal, but creative people can’t. Give your people the software, time schedule, and support to do great work.

3. Stop treating every creative person the same. Everyone is different—we prepare differently, write or design differently, think differently, and live differently. Managing every creative person on your team the same way will only result in failure.

4. Be specific. It’s fine not to like the product. But help us understand what missed the mark. Just saying, “It doesn’t work” or “I don’t like it” doesn’t tell us what’s wrong or what we could do better.

5. Seniority means nothing. Stop promoting less talented people just because they’ve been around longer. Loyalty is great, but talent is far greater. Strong leaders understand how to value the best employees. That’s the way to get results.

6. Think long-term. Work to build a strong creative department by being supportive, providing resources, and most of all, give encouragement.

It’s important to remember not to be afraid to express disappointment or even frustration—but only after you’ve followed the five points above. Coddling your creative team is just as bad as crushing them. Tell them the truth and be direct. The more feedback the better. But be specific, and help them deliver a great final product. You’ll be much happier with the result.


Any other suggestions to pass along?


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Phil Cooke, Ph.D, is a filmmaker, media consultant, and founder of Cooke Media Group in Los Angeles, California. His latest book is “Ideas on a Deadline: How to Be Creative When the Clock is Ticking." Find out more at