Just when you think everything is going well with your team’s project and the finish line is in sight, here comes the curveball. Someone was left out of the loop, or a senior executive gets surprised by a deliverable. The team scrambles to make last-minute changes and push back deadlines. Creative professionals know this can be discouraging. How can we improve our review and approval processes to ensure all stakeholders are included?
We all know that sometimes the approval process isn’t smooth. We’ll examine strategies for handling “curveball” feedback. So, let’s take a look at some specific, concrete steps that we can take along the way to give us the best chance at a smooth review and approval process.
Craft a solid brief
When you work with an agency, we may or may not deal directly with the client. But it is still our responsibility to ensure that the brief answers all of the key questions about the deliverable. Who is the audience? Where will this be seen? What are the goals of the campaign? What is the voice and personality of the brand? Getting as much information about the client’s goals as possible is critical to a successful end product. Here’s a great guide to crafting a brief.
Identify key stakeholders
It’s not uncommon for the task of creating a commercial to be handled by a Marketing VP or another higher-up. But sometimes, not everyone who needs to be involved is actually involved. Nobody wants to make the mistake of leaving out a CEO (who likes to be involved with everything) until the last minute. People who safeguard the brand visually and narratively must be all involved.
Another category of individual to consider is the “domain expert.” Companies often have individuals who really get the “heart” of the product and understand the customer’s desires. They might be in sales or even in product development. Getting those “domain experts” on your side can be vital to getting the final deliverable right.
A common decision-making framework is known as the DACI model. Each letter presents a key participant in the production and review process:
- Driver: This individual doesn’t have sign-off authority, but they are responsible for moving the project forward.
- Approver: You might have more than one approver. Usually, there is a chain of authority that needs to sign off. But overall, it is best to try to avoid having too many cooks in the kitchen.
- Contributors: These individual contributors bring their talents to the table and help get the various aspects of the project done.
- Informed: By keeping key people across the organization in the loop, you’ll avoid hearing “why wasn’t I consulted.”
MediaSilo delivers an environment for the members of a DACI team to collaborate. For instance, versioning helps to identify which export of a video a particular note applied to. And then, you can see how it was addressed in a subsequent revision.
Collaborate on the concept
When the stroke of genius hits you, and you draft that fantastic concept, view it as a rough draft. Sometimes, it’s hard not to be precious about a concept that works together on every level. So make sure your script and storyboard make the rounds to everyone who could kill it later. Help people to feel like they are a part of the process and that they are heard. This step will set you up for a successful review and approval process once the cameras have stopped rolling.
Work through legal and clearance issues
Keep in mind that your client may need to have their legal counsel provide input before and after you film your spot. Music and location clearances need to be in place to protect the company. And they will want to make sure that nothing in the piece could create unnecessary legal risk. It is key that the concept not rely on an element that might get struck down by a company’s internal legal team.
Gather broad internal feedback
When reviewing elements and deliverables, I like the saying, “Show your work early and often.” It can be scary to send out incomplete work, but platforms like MediaSilo provide a great way to get feedback at critical stages without slowing down the creative process. This way, the agency and client can feel like they have a handle on the process, and you can ensure buy-in along the way. Even then, it can still be tough to know who needs to see what at which stage. But getting early work in front of people can head off headaches. It also builds trust because it demonstrates a level of vulnerability. And your creative team will instantly know when you need to make course corrections.
This step is also where the presentation features of MediaSilo can make a big difference. When the work is presented online or in person, all distractions must be eliminated. It’s a key moment to control the messaging and ensure the work gets presented in the best light possible.
Handling creative differences
Inevitably, creative differences arise. These are the “curveballs” we’re talking about. It’s the director’s job to work through the client’s feedback and figure out ways to make them happy while still realizing the creative vision. This moment is where it can be really helpful to gain feedback from various sources so that there is a balance to offset the feedback from one influential individual. One executive may have a strong objection to a particular element, but if other voices like it, those voices can help soften the blow. As daunting as it may seem, gaining feedback from as many voices as necessary is ultimately helpful to get the deliverable across the finish line.
Avoiding defensiveness is key when hearing feedback. The temptation to defend the work is always present, but it is more effective to take notes, and give a little time to try to get to the core of the objection. When you are in the moment and receiving pushback, your stress level rises, and it is hard to think clearly and respond well. Sleeping on feedback is honestly one of the best methods for processing it. Take some time to process it, gain input from other voices, and allow for creative solutions to present themselves after a night of sleep.
Curveball feedback can yield even better work than originally planned. Sometimes, that feedback reveals a weakness in the spot, even if the person giving the feedback could have been more precise in articulating the exact problem. When people try to explain what they feel in their gut, there is often a significant disconnect, but there is still something real there. An experienced storyteller can digest that feedback and uncover the real reason a piece isn’t working. That insight can yield new creative solutions that fix those underlying problems.
Focus groups can help
Once your commercial is “finished,” a helpful step can be to get feedback from people outside of the process. Sometimes, we are so “head down” in the work that we miss obvious things. So, feedback from internal focus groups or even beta testers of software products can point out things that we would miss. It’s important to hold this feedback loosely, but it can also be illuminating.
When feedback from focus groups is obtained, it is important to consider their similarity to your main audience. For instance, sometimes, the hardest core fans of a particular product do not represent the majority of the customers of that product.
Final sign off
When it is time for the finished piece to make rounds, ensure everyone gets included again. The two critical junctures for broad approval are the storyboards and the final sign-off before shipping. Hopefully, the rounds of internal feedback have helped finesse the deliverable to perfection. However, it is still worth asking, “Has everyone who needs to see it had eyes on the final version?”
Keeping everybody in the loop can be challenging with the best of plans. That’s why it’s critical to have tools like MediaSilo that reduce the friction and help keep everyone in sync. See those curveballs coming, and the team will hit them out of the park. And that’s the kind of teamwork that leads to repeat clients, happy teams, and creatively fulfilling work for all involved
MediaSilo allows for easy management of your media files, seamless collaboration for critical feedback, and out-of-the-box synchronization with your timeline for efficient changes. See how MediaSilo is powering modern post-production workflows with a 14-day free trial.
Reuben Evans is a director, an award-winning screenwriter, and a member of the Producers Guild of America. As the former executive producer at Faithlife TV, he produced and directed numerous documentaries and commercials. Reuben’s tools of choice are RED Cameras, Final Cut Pro, and DaVinci Resolve.