Whether you’re working with your internal team or an agency partner, giving good feedback on creative work can be surprisingly tricky. Do it right and you just might unlock new levels of creativity and motivation to get the job done. Do it poorly and you’ll risk sending the team spiraling off in unproductive directions.

In this episode of the Higher Ed Marketing Lab podcast, we’re joined by Echo Delta’s Creative Director, Rachel Newell. As an internationally awarded creative leader with years of experience guiding creative work for some of the world’s most respected brands, Rachel has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to critical feedback on creative projects.

We cover:

  • How to effectively prepare to deliver feedback before you even walk into the room
  • Rachel’s simple framework for identifying the right issues to focus on
  • How professional creators plan for and manage the “creative thrashing” that can bring creative projects to a halt
  • Why it’s usually more helpful to focus on problems rather than solutions
  • How to have a positive and productive conversation without over-relying on formulaic techniques like the “feedback sandwich”.

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Transcript

Jarrett Smith:
You are listening to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m your host, Jarrett Smith. Welcome to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m your host, Jarrett Smith. Each episode, it’s my job to engage with some of the brightest minds in higher education and the broader world of marketing to uncover actionable insights that you can use to level up your school’s marketing and enrollment performance. In this episode, we’ll be talking about how to give feedback on creative work, whether you’re reviewing designs for a webpage or draft copy for your next recruitment campaign, the quality of your feedback can be the make or break factor that elevates the work and energizes the team or sends them spiraling off into unfruitful territory.

Joining us to help get on the path to better more constructive feedback is Echo Delta’s Creative Director, Rachel Newell. Rachel is an internationally awarded creative leader whose work includes some of the most recognized brands in the world. We cover how to prepare to deliver feedback before you walk in the room, how the idea of creative thrashing can help you avoid drastic feedback late in a project, Rachel’s go-to framework for evaluating creative products, and how to lead with positivity without over-relying on formulaic rules, like the feedback sandwich. This was a great conversation and will be helpful for anyone looking to hone their ability to deliver solid feedback that keeps the work moving forward. So without further ado, here’s my conversation with Rachel Newell. Rachel, welcome to the show.

Rachel Newell:
Well, hey, Jarrett, thanks for having me.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah, I’m excited to have this conversation, and we’re like in person.

Rachel Newell:
Yes. I’m feeling good about it, feeling good, still transitioning, but it’s lovely to see you in person.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah, it’s good to be breathing the same air and not totally freaked out about that.

Rachel Newell:
Yeah, I’m mildly freaked out, but it’s good.

Jarrett Smith:
It’ll take another year to get over that.

Rachel Newell:
Yeah.

Jarrett Smith:
So super excited about today’s topic. We’re talking about how to give better feedback on creative work. Before we jump into that conversation, I’m wondering if you could give us just a quick little snapshot of your creative background, because I think it’s super relevant to this conversation and what you do here with us.

Rachel Newell:
Yeah. So from the top, my name is Rachel Newell. I’m the Creative Director here at Echo Delta. So I come from a graphic design background. So went to school for graphic design, absolutely fell in love with it. I love the range that it is. So I’ve been able to do editorial design, packaging design, found my way into advertising, which that’s a huge beast in itself, and started doing all sorts of integrated marketing. Did some work in New York City, done some work here in Central Florida. So definitely have worked with a lot of different interdisciplinary teams from different creative backgrounds. So yeah, I’m with you honing your skills of giving constructive creative feedback. I don’t know. It’s a tricky thing and it’s a lifelong skill worth honing.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah, when I was prepping for this conversation, I was doing a little bit of homework and I’d forgotten about all the websites that are out there about bad creative feedback that designers and copywriters have gotten over the years. There’s some really hilarious stuff out there.

Rachel Newell:
There’s some good tumblers.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. Okay. So the format for our discussion, I’ve challenged both of us to come up with three things that we would want or suggest that other folks think about when they’re delivering feedback on creative work to their teams. I’m going to let you go first. And we have not for the record compared notes beforehand. So we might have, I don’t know, we might have identical topics.

Rachel Newell:
Or I might’ve just gone rogue and not understood. Anyway-

Jarrett Smith:
We might have some serious editing to do is what you’re saying.

Rachel Newell:
Yes.

Jarrett Smith:
Okay. All right. I’ll see if I can diplomatically deliver some feedback after this.

Rachel Newell:
See, this is a meta episode.

Jarrett Smith:
This meta episode. All right. All right, Rachel, you’re up first. Okay.

Rachel Newell:
All right. My initial things, if I had to boil it down to where to start to give better creative feedback is actually with yourself and to make sure that you’re going into critiquing whatever project, knowing as much of the history to the project as possible. So often hopefully, the designers or web designers or whoever have a creative brief. And I think it’s super, super helpful just to take a beat, do your own homework, read through that creative brief or remind yourself, refresh yourself about that creative brief.

So right, you can jump into the conversation with the creatives with the same background knowledge of what are the limitations? What was the big ask? Maybe what’s the big problem? That way you can skip over saying like, hey, well, why didn’t we do this? And then they’re like, well, they said not to do a postcard, or they said not to do X, right? You can kind of not have to have that sort of stumbling into having to catch up, because that’s actually been, I think, something that I’ve experienced is the biggest hiccup and getting into a good trustworthy flow of giving creative feedback is just jumping in, doing your homework and not having that creative who’s having to receive the feedback have to start to explain the why’s and the why’s not, if that makes any sense.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah, it’s going to have a lot of that kind of foundational knowledge. And I feel like that gets just more and more important, the more projects you have in the queue, if you haven’t seen it in three weeks and you’re circling back for review, just kind of refreshing on what were we doing? Why were we doing this? What did we all agree to?

Rachel Newell:
Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah.

Rachel Newell:
Should I keep going?

Jarrett Smith:
Oh, I want to go next.

Rachel Newell:
Okay, I like this. I like this.

Jarrett Smith:
All right. All right. Well, I’m picturing, oh, you’re a Jimmy Fallon fan, right? So the musical wheel. Yes.

Rachel Newell:
I’m into it.

Jarrett Smith:
All right. So I’m the big Seth Godin fan because he’s written a million books, but years and years ago, I read this book from him called Linchpin. And he talks about this idea of creative thrashing. And so imagine in your mind, there’s like the timeline of your project, this nice little thin line. Every time you have a peak, or sorry, a tweak or a pivot or a change or some discussion about different alternatives and that sort of thing, it creates a little ripple on the line. And he was like, it almost looks like a seismograph. He said like, if you think about the timeline of your project, you want all of that seismographic action, all the creative thrashing to happen on the front end of the project. And it should slowly shake out as the project progresses and you have less and less thrashing. And he said like, this is how professional creators create.

They know to get all the messy conversations done on the front end, because once you’re in an execution, big changes certainly can have a big impact on like time and budget and that sort of thing. But it creates opportunities, increases the chance to miss deadlines or introduce, if it’s a technical project, maybe introduce bugs that you didn’t think through. And honestly, I think we’ve both seen that if there’s a lot of thrashing towards the tail end, it just demoralizes the team because they lose energy.

And this one I think is so important in that it’s going to make your conversations easier if you keep this in mind from the start of the project. So I think there’s a couple of ways teams end up thrashing. The first one I thought about was just the old classic swoop and poop or maybe some really influential, important person was left out of the process and they get brought in right at the tail end and they say, whoa, whoa, hold on. This is horrible. How did you get here? I feel like most people listening to this probably aren’t making that mistake. They’re organizationally savvy enough to avoid that one.

But I think the sneaky way this works in is that in a good creative process, you’re not going to jump right into execution, right? It’s going to be kind of baby steps towards some sort of finished product. I feel like if you did it right, then nobody’s going to be super surprised about how you got to that finished execution. But here’s the thing. The people that commissioned the project, the project sponsor, they’re never the people doing the work. So, if you’re like a senior leader at a school, you probably had to fight. You first recognize that there was a problem that was worth addressing, you probably had to go through all sorts of, jump through all sorts of hoops to secure the budget and the will and the focus to solve that problem. And then you finally bring it to your internal team, your agency, and you’re like, let’s go, I’ve been waiting forever. We need this like yesterday. And well, what do you mean you want to do this concepting work on the front end?

Rachel Newell:
Yeah, talk about it. And let’s explore.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah, let’s explore different alternatives. I can imagine that can if it gets excessive could feel a little bit like nails on a chalkboard. So I feel like sometimes, not always, but sometimes there’s a little bit of pressure to maybe cut some corners on the front end, come on, or even if they agree to go along with the process, they may not give the early stages the focus it deserves and they might save some of that because it doesn’t look, it’s hard to see where it’s going, but sometimes I don’t know, I feel like that early part of the project, that’s where you eat your vegetables. It’s not necessarily good-looking, but there’s a lot of that foundational work.

Rachel Newell:
Yeah. Well, and it’s like you’re saying, but that’s where you need going back to the schism sort of chart visually that you painted. It’s that thing too, where it’s, leaders, the people who are involved in sort of the leadership level of either motivating the creatives or even that liaison between the client and account and everything where we do need to encourage those conversations and that questioning and everything like that. So all those schisms, all that conversation does happen on that front. And I mean, I know now we’re going into like, how do we even get to critiquing creative work? Without even talking about that step before, we start critiquing creative work. I think that’s part of totally respecting all the work that happened before we even got the creative brief, right?

And yeah, and I think it’s just about, I think even what I was talking about with like doing the homework, I mean, even encouraging the client to share all of their homework. So we have a better understanding that we don’t spin our wheels in an area where they were like, whoa, whoa, why did you even do that? Hold on. We shouldn’t have even touched that area or hey, we’ve done that five years ago, we want something new. So again, I think it’s just that homework, like kind of digging in the homework too of, we get really excited about the creative, we get really excited about, okay, how does it come together? What is that final polished thing? But it’s interesting that both of us, our first points were, hold on before we start even talking colors and type, let’s get everybody in the same brain space, right?

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. Yeah. And that’s surprisingly hard to do, especially when you have lots of different folks from lots of different disciplines. And I think like you and I, of course, we’re operating within an agency environment, but all of this totally applies to the internal team. Sometimes I think even more so, because I think when people hire an agency, they expect, yeah, there’s going to be a process and there’s going to be a thing that they’re doing. And that’s why you brought them in. But sometimes the internal team is almost more like the creative vending machine of we’re keeping the trains moving on a day-to-day basis. And so there may be even more of a temptation to skip over some of that preliminary, let’s just all get on the same page, let’s share the same brain space and make sure we’re all online.

Rachel Newell:
Yeah.

Jarrett Smith:
Cool.

Rachel Newell:
Before we move on to the next, you made me think about vocabulary too. And I didn’t write this down and I should have, so I’m going to sneak it in-

Jarrett Smith:
I have got a whole [inaudible 00:12:07].

Rachel Newell:
Oh, man, do you?

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. All right.

Rachel Newell:
Because I think it dovetails, I think what we’re starting to talk about like if it’s, we talk about the sort of like high level philosophical, we all need to be in the same brain space and know the history. It’s like, okay, how do you make that tangible? And the first way, and I think this happens, I think with an internal team, you start to get that shared language that we can just get each other a little bit quicker. And it’s not thinking the same way. We’re always challenging each other’s perspectives and challenging different and better ways to leverage technology to get to better solutions. But right, there’s just a shorthand that helps.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. That I think just naturally arises when you have a team that’s worked together for quite a while. You just get there faster. Number two, but you got-

Rachel Newell:
Okay. Well, I’m wondering if yours is vocabulary. Okay. Well, number two.

Jarrett Smith:
That’s you.

Rachel Newell:
So think, because we’re doing a lot of website redesigns as of late, my brain immediately went to visual design for creative feedback, but also the supplies to copywriting, the supplies, even though some people might not think it’s like sexy, creative, but like wireframes and everything. The good old hierarchy, like what is like the core goal, what is the core messaging? What’s the core visual? And then what needs to be secondary elements. And so with giving better creative feedback, I think walking into it, asking yourself when you review work, what’s creating clarity, another way of saying what’s working, right? What’s creating clarity for me? What am I understanding? And then what elements are causing confusion? And you just need to note it. You don’t need to fix it. You don’t need to tell the UX designer or the copywriter or the designer like, this is how I would change it, but maybe just tee up, hey, this is causing confusion for me, help me figure out why that is.

But all of these things, I have clarity around, all these things are making sense. I feel like they’re working well together, but this is creating some confusion. And I think using that language for me helps create a dialogue where you’re not dictating how to fix it, but you’re just opening up for that person who’s actually creating with all the considerations that went into that project to kind of be like, okay, cool. So, if that’s a sticking point, how do I need to re-imagine this whole project potentially o, oh, that sticking point. Oh, I’m sorry. Yeah, move that over this way, or put a comma here. Maybe it’s a quick fix, but you give that power to them, it kind of solve.

Jarrett Smith:
Yep. No, I think that’s a really good one. You bring up the point of when you recognize something that needs to be addressed, not jumping straight to the solution.

Rachel Newell:
Yeah.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. I think I had a bad habit of doing that, I still do that sometimes, but I try not to, I try to be very aware of it when I do, because I understand that that can be really overwhelming for a designer. And then, or any anybody who’s invested years and years in honing their craft and they’re probably thousands of decisions that brought them to the point where they are now, and there’s things that you’ve never even dreamed of that they were thinking about that are culminated in this end product. And so you think it’s a simple thing. Why don’t you just make that red? And they’re like, They could probably-

Rachel Newell:
ADA compliance. [crosstalk 00:15:37].

Jarrett Smith:
There’s 25 reasons why I ruled out making that background red. All right. So you brought up vocabulary. The one I thought of was the value of learning a little bit of lingo. I feel like no matter what your role is, it’s just really good to understand a little bit about the big, important things about your counterparts world. And you don’t have to be an expert in every discipline that’s represented the table. I describe as like cocktail party knowledge, like you’ve got a good working knowledge. You don’t know enough to actually do it yourself, but you understand what the big ideas are. So like if you were talking with a designer, it means to me having just a working knowledge of things like alignment and contrast and a little bit of knowledge about color theory and maybe just a little knowledge about typography in different categories of typing, some of the principles that designers use to make the choices that they make. If you’re talking copywriting, maybe understanding a little bit about headline tactics and social proof and calls to action and stuff like that.

Rachel Newell:
Yeah. And I think just showing some copywriter love, I think also thinking through different adjectives that they use to describe different writing tones. I know sometimes we say friendly or welcoming, but then we run short. And so reach out to your copywriter and say, hey, what are the different ways that you describe tone so I can be better at facilitating and critiquing?

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah, totally. So I think when you have a little bit of knowledge, I think that does a few things. Number one, I do think it just gets you a little bit of credibility and respect from the team because it’s showing respect for their craft. And from more pragmatic standpoint, it’s just more efficient and precise to use the language that a particular craft uses. So like I thought of some examples of things you might say to a designer, you can let me know what you think about this, but I was like, you might be looking at a design and say, think to yourself, man, this really hard to read, but you don’t want to, again, stopping short of teeing up the solution, you might be able to say something a little more precise like, hey, the tone of that background color is very similar to the text that’s overtop of it. And it just, it feels like it’s a little muddy. You’re zeroing in a little bit more on like what you think the underlying issue might be. And then you can have a conversation around that.

Proximity is a big thing, right? Like showing that two things are logically related, you could say, hey, the proximity of that text or the image suggests that they’re logically related, but they’re actually not. And I’m finding that to be a little confusing or maybe that vibrant color you’re using in the subheadings is maybe actually distracting. It’s throwing off the hierarchy a little bit. Designer can hear that. You’re not telling them how to solve it. You’re just telling, I think I’m putting my finger on what it is and it saves you. I think, actually, I think is a more polite conversation than saying like, this is a jumbled mess and I don’t know where to look.

Rachel Newell:
Well, like you just said conversation. And I think that’s the thing that I have found to be the most fruitful in critiquing creative work and trying to get better creative feedback. I mean, what we’re trying to do is facilitate alignment, facilitate everybody feeling like the choices that we’re making are the right choices, we’re having the right conversation. So yeah, having that vocabulary, I think, enables you to have that conversation, you’re being able to actually exchange words and get to the heart of what the problem is or be able to praise like, oh my goodness, the color palette here is striking, the contrast is amazing.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah, that’s-

Rachel Newell:
And even with copywriting, it’s like, ooh, I know in the brief it said to have to be charming and whimsical, but I totally didn’t know how you were going to do that. And you did that. And so I don’t know, it also facilitates not only critiquing, but also I think praising and building up that trust to where you can have these vulnerable conversations when you need to problem solve.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, I think that’s such a great point. And it reminds me of something. I didn’t write this down as one of my things, but it was just the idea of leading with the positive.

Rachel Newell:
Yeah. There’s a lot of, like through the years, I’ve, I mean, you can hear my voice. I’m like, there’s philosophies about, what is it? Like the sandwich-

Jarrett Smith:
I hate the sandwich.

Rachel Newell:
[crosstalk 00:20:30]. You have a critique, not a negative, but a critique. And then you end with, it’s like we’re all human. I think it’s like, I do think that there’s great value in giving praise and everything. But sometimes it’s like the designer has been beating their head against the wall, trying to figure out the right composition, the right layout. And it’s like you telling them, hey, you did really, really great. And they’re like, thanks, thanks, thanks. But what’s going on? Would you tell me [crosstalk 00:21:00]?

Jarrett Smith:
I feel like there’s definitely when you treat like the feedback sandwich, I have uglier names for it, but if you do that in a formulaic way, people are like, okay, now’s the part where you say something nice and you’re going to hit me with it and you’re going to follow something. So it’s like, hey, Rachel, I love how you thought to put the logo in the top left corner of the navigation-

Rachel Newell:
In my head, I’m like, okay, where’s it? Okay. What’s the next thing? What’s the next thing?

Jarrett Smith:
And then we call it like the $10,000, but… And so, yeah, I think that’s really bad, but I do find sometimes when I’m giving creative feedback and I actually love like a million things that are going right with this, but now I’m zeroing in on this specific thing. I don’t think it’s quite working. Sometimes I occasionally catch myself and I’ll make sure and say something like, hey, I know it feels like I’m nitpicking you, but I just want you to know it’s because so much of this is so right, now I’m zeroing in on little details that I think it’d be just a little bit better. And that’s just a way to tee up. I just want you to know you did a great job, but there’s some specific things that I think we should talk about.

Rachel Newell:
Yeah. And I really appreciate you doing that because I mean, you do that so many times in meetings and it’s so reassuring because I even catch myself doing it, not here at Echo Delta, but in another job, in another team dynamic, I had this just one stellar team, like this great copywriter, art director combo and they amazing ideas, always knocking it out of the park. And they always came with so many options and all of them were always so good. And just how the day the workday goes, we would have only an hour to critique things, pick a direction. And then we had to toss, keep combined certain things. So it was a bit rushed and I caught myself kind of being like, okay, I only have 30 minutes. We went through all this presentation. It was really, really great. Have 30 minutes. Okay, pick this lane. And so I started critiquing it, but I had so much pride for this team.

But a few months in, I remember the copywriter came to me and said, “Hey, am I doing all right?” And I was like, “What do you mean? What do you?” Well, I feel like we just, all I’m getting is like I’m getting better. I feel like I’m honing my craft and everything, but what am I doing right? And I had to catch myself because I was like, oh man, I forgot to just hold space to say, this is all amazing. Hold on. Now we’re honing in on this one thing. So I’m with you. It’s like, so for me, because of that experience, I’ve gotten a little bit more intentional about giving feedback, be it praise or critique, even outside of the hustle and bustle of getting a job done, if that makes any sense, just to hold space for like, I don’t want you to think it’s a feedback sandwich, right? I want this to have a genuine-

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah, it’s so provocative. I’m not.

Rachel Newell:
Yeah. So anyhow, just little side story there.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah, just giving a little context for the critiques that you do have and that reassurance, because I think, I mean, you can speak to this more than I can because you do this more professionally than I do. Well, I don’t know. We all have our different work product. Well, no, we all have our, I guess what I’m trying to babble my way through is that we all have our different work products that we put out there.

And we, I think, try to be professional and somewhat dispassionate about I’m going to create my work product. And then I’m going to turn it over to the jackals to tear it apart and poke holes in it. And whether you’re sort of the creative and the conventional sort of classical sense or you’re strategist or you’re somebody’s manager, I mean, but we’re all invested, we’re all a little sensitive about our work and just that reassurance of, hey, you did good. 99% of this is great. I also feel like if you do the things on the front end that we were talking about, you’re far less likely to have to deliver devastating feedback to someone late in the project.

Rachel Newell:
Yes. And then, anyways, mission control has to happen. And yeah, [inaudible 00:25:25] and reset, realign, all this other stuff. But no, but it sounds like what we’re saying, sort of that initial, if somebody is going into this being like, okay, how can I be better at giving creative feedback? A part of me thinks if somebody is pondering that, it’s because they’ve gone to a creative critique or something and maybe emotions bubbled up a little bit, or maybe there was a miscommunication. And then we were doubling back to clarify and all this other stuff. So I think there’s no surprise that both of us went to conversations, how do we lay the groundwork? How do we share vocabulary?

Jarrett Smith:
How do we prevent problems before they arise in the first place? All right. I think we’re on number three for you.

Rachel Newell:
For me?

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. Make it good.

Rachel Newell:
Oh, it’s really nothing.

Jarrett Smith:
I’m never doing a podcast with you again.

Rachel Newell:
No, I love it. So how to give better creative feedback? Don’t be, I think we were talking about the sensitivities and everything. I think it’s about just slowing down and just not being afraid to just speak your mind. And I think a theme that we’re talking about here is opening up that conversation. And I think giving good creative feedback is about building that relationship with your creative so they understand where you’re coming from, you understand where they’re coming from, but you got to speak up, you’ve got to start somewhere and just, you may not see the right thing, you may not understand something, you may misunderstood the brief and you were interpreting it this way or that way.

Again, I’m sure somebody listening to this was like, oh, I wanted to say, I need to know the pixel width of this and the location of that. But I think giving better creative feedback is about just being vulnerable yourself. So you allow other people to be vulnerable and just to get to a good solution. So I think it’s just about putting yourself out there as much as you’re making other people put themselves out there.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. One thing is I was preparing for this that I kept coming back to is when you receive that feedback of like, I don’t know what’s, something is not quite right, but I’ll know it when I see it. But if that’s how you feel and you can’t pin it down and you’re like, I don’t have the knowledge or I haven’t been able to articulate what’s not working, but throw that out to the team and say, something doesn’t feel right about this, can we work through it? And can we talk about why that might be? Can you help me work through this a little bit? My ideas are a little half-baked, but I think I’m onto something.

That’s kind of like demonstrating a little vulnerability, help me problem solve this, rather than saying that doesn’t work, I’ll know it when I see it, go back to the drawing board, just like the team can’t do anything like that. So, if you learn a little bit of lingo, you have good alignment on the front end, that kind of stuff and then get helps prevent. You’re less likely to end up in that place. But if you ultimately find, I don’t have the words, it’s okay.

Rachel Newell:
And I think that’s where that sort of framework of what’s clear and what’s causing confusion. I think in lieu of having that vocabulary, having the lingo helps facilitate a conversation to kind of, well, this is working, but this isn’t working. Sometimes that’s tricky, depending on who you’re working with. That phrase, hey, this is working, this isn’t working, you may get a little bit of, well, I think it’s working, but if you’re able to say, hey, this is clear to me, but this is creating some confusion, I think it sparks, again, empathy conversation of like, well, we don’t want anybody to be confused. So hold on, let’s talk about it, what’s confusing about it and stuff.

So anyhow, so my three things were know the background, I teed it up with hierarchy, because usually, when I look at the order of events or order of elements or something, I’m trying to think through, okay, what do I need to see first? What do I need to see second? If it’s that sort of project, but then dovetailing straight into that, I’ve started to say, okay, what’s clear to me? What’s confusing to me? And then facilitate that conversation. And then the third thing of, just showing up, making yourself vulnerable, will facilitate a better vibe, working through creative feedback.

Jarrett Smith:
So you kind of that last piece that you said about saying, hey, this is, or is not working for me, and can we talk about that? And so that kind of segued into my last piece, my last little piece of advice, which was trying to keep your personal feelings in check and understand where you try and be aware of when you may be veering off into your own idiosyncratic feelings about something. And I feel like there’s kind of a lot to unpack there because I don’t know what popped into my head when I was thinking about that was like the movie Zoolander, everybody I know loves that movie. I can’t stand it.

Rachel Newell:
Oh, okay. Why?

Jarrett Smith:
I don’t know. It is so stupid. It’s so stupid. When they’re at the gas station spraying each other with gas, I’m like, I can’t watch that. Okay. But Anchorman totally on board with anchorman, also equally stupid.

Rachel Newell:
Yeah. Yeah. But that’s a great point, though, is like, I think that’s why I always go back to like what is the creative brief? Like what is the bigger ask? Because I think that is the tricky thing too, is this notion of creatives being a certain stereotype, like they’re artistic or like they have-

Jarrett Smith:
Supersensitive.

Rachel Newell:
Supersensitive. We’re all human. We’re all sensitive. If you’re proud of your work and you’ve put a lot of time into it, of course, anyone’s going to be potentially defensive, because again, they thought about it, they invested. But I think going into giving better creative feedback is also trying to toss the stereotypes out the door and just meet somebody where they’re at, because at the end of the day, it’s like a lot of the creatives that I work with, yes, they have their personal style, they have their personal preferences, they have done projects that have been very successful in the past.

So maybe that’s kind of they lean on those certain little shortcuts or those sorts of tricks, but we’re in a very interesting, cool industry where it’s not necessarily all about us, we get to learn so much. I mean, just with us, depending on your brief, I’m always learning something new about either a school or a certain audience or a certain interest area. And so I do have to be a little bit of like an actor or a theater person where you have to really dive into that world and-

Jarrett Smith:
And realize, hey, I’m not my target audience. It’s convenient when I am, but-

Rachel Newell:
But let me learn about it. And let’s almost just explore that in a way. And so I don’t know, again, that’s why go back to what’s the creative brief? I think to your point, like about vocabulary, like what are the technical parameters to where we can? It’s not about what do you like and what do you dislike, but it is about what’s working, what’s satisfying the brief, what isn’t satisfying the brief and how can we get closer to that.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. I feel like this thing, the personal preferences can come up in sneaky ways. One thing I’ve noticed, I think this is an advantage we have on the agency side is we get to jump between a lot of different brands, a lot of different types of projects. But when you’re on an internal team and you’re working with the same brand day after day, I’ve observed that very quickly, there’s like a boredom that sets in. It starts out as efficiency, look, we’re all doing the same kinds of work over and over again. And it is efficient, but then I think there can become a level of boredom and dissatisfaction with it.

We’ve got to stretch out and break into something new. And that’s not really driven by a strategy, that’s not really being driven by the recognition of a need. It’s just more like, no, we need some novelty here. And I think that can be channeled in productive ways, but I’ve also seen schools that maybe have like a really distinctive asset, something that appears throughout their marketing. It’s like just something that’s really unique and interesting. And they should be just shouting it from the rooftops and never stop. And then they’re like, oh, but I’m so tired of seeing this thing in our marketing materials. It’s like, really, because your target audience was just now starting to tune in and pay attention. I realize you’re so done with it, but actually, you need to repeat it. And that’s hard. That’s really challenging.

The other thing I thought of was I wish I came up with this phrase, but it’s like the hippo effect, the highest paid person’s opinion. If you are the hippo and you know you’re the hippo, be really careful about when and how you weigh in because your opinion might have 10 times more impact than you really want it to. Sometimes it’s nice. Sometimes it was like, hey, I can get what I want. But sometimes the little side comment really throws everybody into tizzy, and maybe it didn’t need to, maybe it was just a side comment.

Rachel Newell:
Yeah. And I mean, even within your internal team, there’s just going to be different personalities and everything. And even with myself sometimes, I love collaborating and I’ve come up with collaborating with other creatives and it’s just you mind-meld and you explore different things. But in the last few years, being in more of a creative director position, as much as you want to pal around with everybody and collaborate, there is a little bit of weight to anything that I say. I mean, case in point, sometimes I’ll ask a question and my creative team is like, okay, we’ll do that. And it’s like, that truly was a question. Hold on, hold on.

So again, I mean, totally to your point, if you are the hippo in the room, being mindful of that. And again, encouraging, hopefully, you have the time span to develop relationships and encourage a sense of trust and encourage open understanding of like, hey, when we’re in this phase of the project, this is exploration, like, yes, we’re critiquing the work, let’s push it. When I ask a question, I’m really asking a question, but that dovetails into you as a person that you’re critiquing work really be self-aware of if you’re asking a question, are you leading the witness?

So maybe just say what you want to say versus like, I don’t know, there’s different, if whoever’s listening, if you’re in a field of being a creative director, creative mentor, there definitely is avenues of thinking to help encourage creative thought and encourage creative problem-solving by asking questions, but just check yourself, are you in a position of mentoring and nurturing creatives? And so you want to mentor and nurture different avenues of thought to land at different problem-solving styles, or are you a CEO coming in and you’re like, why is it this green? And then they’re going to be like, oh crap, we need to make this green, hold on.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah, everything is green now.

Rachel Newell:
So I don’t know. Yeah, it’s interesting. It’s interesting, the hippo effect. But so what is your take on that? How have you seen that played out in different recent projects?

Jarrett Smith:
Well, I think in some of the ways that you’ve pointed out where maybe you think you’re offering a simple question and you really come at it from a place of honest questioning, but people think there’s more here, you just want me to get to your answer. And you’re like, no, no, no. And you have to reassure people, I’m really just trying to engage in the thought process with you. And may be again taking what to you felt like, well, on your personal scale of one to 10 of caring, it might be a two for you, but because you said it, everybody thinks it’s a seven or an eight and we need to get this fixed now. And it’s like, well, okay, relative to all the things we’re trying to deal with, this is not a big deal for me. I can let this go. And it might even be driven by personal preference. I don’t know. So I feel like sometimes it’s helpful, you don’t want to have to caveat everything you say. Sometimes a little bit of that can be helpful.

Rachel Newell:
I would be interested to see if, because right, I’m coming at it from a total standpoint of critiquing the work in preparation for client presentation, but it would be interesting considering the audience of this podcast, if upon hearing or sort of insider agency conversations about critiquing work and everything, is there a line of questioning or is there a certain creative aspect that they’re like, cool, cool, cool, you guys were talking about super high level like briefs and stuff, but from the client side maybe or from somebody working for, not necessarily working with an in-house creative team, what their job has them bumping up against having to critique or give feedback to creative work? What are their particular pain points? I don’t know. It would be interesting to see right into Jarrett Echo Delta.

Jarrett Smith:
Right in. Yeah. Yeah. Actually, you can email me. You could email Jarrett, J-A-R-R-E-T-T, and Echo Delta, or podcast at Echo Delta, or visit our show notes and leave a comment.

Rachel Newell:
Yes. Yes. But no, seriously, it’d be interesting because such a head space of like agency critiquing work, but I wonder, I don’t know, I just wonder.

Jarrett Smith:
How does it? How does that? What are the maybe nuances of how that plays out in-house when you’re actually in that, because I do think that context matters a bit for sure? Well, cool. Well, Rachel, thank you so much for the conversation.

Rachel Newell:
Yeah. Thanks for having me. And we’ll do a movie night of Zoolander and I’ll see you cringe.

Jarrett Smith:
Cringe. Thanks. The Higher Ed Marketing Lab is produced by Echo Delta, a full service enrollment marketing agency for colleges and universities of all sizes. To see some of the work we’ve done and how we’ve helped schools just like yours, visit echodelta.co. If you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on Apple Podcasts. And as always, if you have a comment, question, suggestion or episode idea, feel free to drop us a line at podcastatechodelta.co.