Effective Creative Meetings

November 1, 2004

1. Read the Strategy to Open

At any meeting where creative work will be presented or discussed, someone (usually the advertising agency Account Executive) opens the meeting by reading aloud the Creative Strategy or Creative Brief. It's sort of like saying grace before a meal.

2. Agency/Client Agreement on Strategy

Nothing is worse than waiting for six or eight weeks for the agency creative presentation, only to discover that that they didn't "get" the brief.

It is essential that client and agency discuss the brief before any creative work begins. Face-to-face meetings are best, especially for major new creative work, such as a new campaign. A telephone conference call, at the very least, is required for any project.

Every word in a strategy statement or brief must be there for a reason. Aim for simple Anglo-Saxon language rather than ornate Latinate; go for simple, active structure. Keep the document to one page, with as much addenda as you need: lab reports, focus group verbatims, etc.

David Ogilvy said: "The best creative strategy is one that can be told by an account executive to a copywriter in an elevator, between the second and third floors."

3. The Creative Brief: Five Essential Elements

There are as many different kinds of briefs as there are clients and ad agencies, but there are five essential elements they must contain:

  • Objective: What do you want the advertising (or communication) to accomplish.
  • Target Audience: Who are you talking to? If you try to talk to everyone, you will end up talking to nobody. A good Target Audience description usually marries a demographic (such as age, education, income) with a psychographic (mindset).
  • Key Consumer Benefit or Promise: The heart and soul of the strategy statement. What's in it for the consumer - whether the consumer is a housewife, a doctor, or a CFO?
  • It's great if the benefit your brand offers differentiates it, but beware of benefits that are distinctive but not meaningful. Your first job is to offer an important benefit to the consumer.
  • P&G believes that in most categories there is a "high ground" - a benefit more important than any other. In instant coffee, it's "tastes like fresh-perked." In toilet paper, it's "softness." P&G doesn't care if 100 competitors all offer the same benefit; they will go after the same high ground and simply ask their agency for superior creative work.
  • Support or "Reason to Believe": Consumers are increasingly skeptical today. A reason to believe the Key Consumer Benefit is more important than ever.
  • Avoid Multiple Support Statements. Try to zero in on the most important one, just as you did with the key consumer benefit. Avoid language like: "Support may be drawn from the following," with a litany of possible supports.
  • Tone and Manner: The "personality" of the advertising in question. (Note that this is not the personality of your brand, although all communications must adhere to the brand persona.)

4. "Tree" of Benefit Importance

Sometimes the key consumer benefit is a rational one; more often, the higher or more important benefit is emotional.

A classic example is P&G's Joy Dishwashing Liquid.
For years, Joy promised that it would clean dishes
"right down to the shine" - a powerful rational benefit.
Later, Joy added the words: "And isn't that a nice reflection
on you," an emotional benefit for the housewife.

Make sure you have followed the twigs as far up the tree as you need to go.

5. Creative Presentation Attendance

Ideally, you want to gather in the same room at the same time everyone who needs to approve the creative work.

If this is advertising that will launch a new product or service, approvers will be very senior indeed. If the advertising concerns a major new campaign, again senior levels are involved. Fewer and less senior people are needed if the meeting is to present the 10th print ad in a successful, long-term campaign.

Increasingly, clients today are trying to have the approvers present at the same meeting. After the agency presents the work and makes its recommendation, and after as lengthy discussion as is needed, the clients leave the room, discuss the creative work, and come back with one unanimous decision.

This is not easy to do, but advertisers who are trying to simplify the approval process tell us it is worth its weight in gold. And agencies love hearing the news - good or bad - right away. (One copywriter called multiple meetings with multiple requests for revisions the fate of "being nibbled to death by ducks.")

6. Set Clear Deadlines - and Stick to Them

Establish clear deadlines for the creative presentation(s), with enough time built in to evaluate the work and to ask for revisions, or even for an entirely new effort. Never assume creative executions will be perfect the first (or even second or third) time.

Four weeks is usually enough time for the agency to create new campaigns. One to two weeks is appropriate for individual ads or spots that pool-out an existing campaign.

Be particularly strict about timing if you are facing air dates, insertion dates or scheduled research.

7. Agency Responsibilities

The creative presentation is the agency's show. They are responsible for whatever materials are necessary to present the creative work in the best way. For example, if one campaign relies on an unusual film technique, they might show an example. If they are suggesting the use of a celebrity, they might bring a tape or photos.

The agency should never present any work it would not be willing to produce. And if it shows more than one campaign or execution, it should always have a recommendation and a reason why.

8. Evaluating Creative Work

There are basically three steps.

  • React like a person; better yet, put yourself in the shoes of your consumer. Do you "get" the advertising? Do you like it? Does it engage you?
  • Is the advertising on strategy? If your answer is "no," you must turn it down. Be aware that this is sometimes subjective. The agency may feel that the key consumer benefit is present; you may believe that it is buried in the body copy.
  • Is the advertising effective?

9. Giving the Agency Compelling Feedback

Here again, you have three basic options:

  • Approve the advertising as it stands.
  • Reject the advertising completely. The advertiser asks the agency to go back to the drawing board and start over.
  • Ask for revisions. Again, try to give reasons. Be as objective as possible. Try to give the agency your concerns, not your solutions.

Be candid and clear. Remember that the agency has "subjective hearing" at this point. They are waiting for approval. So unless you are firm and specific in turning something down, you are likely to see that same piece of creative work, only slightly revised, at the next meeting.

10. Establishing Next Steps

Never end the creative meeting without agreeing on next steps: revisions or new work needed; timetable, responsibilities. Ask the agency for a detailed conference report within two days.


Jane Maas, Chairman Emeritus Earle Palmer Brown and ANA training instructor Creative Strategy & Positioning. November 2004.