My day-job requires me to mentor new planners. After each session, I write a note and post it here as a new instalment of the “planning communication strategy for beginners” series. I hope one day this series can be published as a textbook, both in Indonesian and English.
Previously I have talked about the basic principle in communication strategy, here. I have also lined out steps in developing the communication strategy, here. You can also find the guidelines to write creative briefs here.
Now the next duty of a planner is evaluating the work (or proposal) that has been developed by the creative craftspeople. A planner’s principal role in this review is to ensure that the proposal can fulfill the communication task or challenge as determined in the creative brief. The other considerations (e.g. if the clients will like the work, or if it has potential to win the award show) must come secondary after this.
In creative review, most of the time planners will face rough sketches. If this is for television commercials, we usually will discuss story lines, not finished scripts, let alone story boards. If this is for printed materials, most likely it will be scamps (not scams). For proposal related to events or stunts or digital media, sometimes they bring some visuals. The important point here is, reviewing creative demands planners to be able to imagine and conceive the finished work.
Never go to a creative review without re-reading the creative brief first. Otherwise, how would you remember what the communication task was? If you can’t remember it, how would you be able to judge if the proposals fulfill the task? You need also to be fully aware of the desired cognitive and emotional response the proposals should trigger.
During the creative review
I’ve previously written here that the most important thing a planner can contribute to his/her creative counterparts is to exude the confidence that the team will eventually come up with a solution everyone is proud of. This is most needed during the creative review.
A good planner is always mindful that he/she comes to any creative review to help the whole agency delivers effective solution, not to judge the competence of his/her colleagues. Leave all skepticism behind and lean forward with genuine interest when the creative craftspeople show us their work. Listen carefully and don’t let anything else distract us.
Once they’ve finished walking everyone through their work, I’m running through on this checklist quickly and silently.
- Recognize your spontaneous emotional reactions or gut-feel towards the proposal. Write it down.
- Take time to understand what the idea is.
- Imagine you have to summarize the work to your friends who haven’t seen the brief. Fill the blank: “It’s about …”
- Using movie-speak, can you write a logline off it?
- Interrogate the idea.
- Is there anything inherently interesting in the idea itself? Stripped bare from the execution, does the idea piqué your curiosity? In movie-speak, does the idea have High-Concept?
- Do you like this idea? Compare this with your answer to #1 above.
- Do you feel like you have seen or heard this logline or summary before?
- Does the idea do one of the following?
- Give a fresh take to something familiar
- Give a familiar take to something new
- Can you imagine many executions to bring the idea alive?
- Can you imagine many media or channels to bring the idea alive?
- Assess how the overall creative work (idea + execution) operates.
- Does it grab and sustain your attention? Compare this with your answer to #1 above.
- Is it fresh or original, or is it something you’ve seen before?
- Does it have one thing that’s memorable about it?
- Does it trigger the agreed desired response?
- Does it do what it needs to do as stated in the communication task of the creative brief?
- Does it portray the brand in the right way?
- Does it portray the brand in the distinctive way?
- Be mindful about why you like and dislike about the elements of the execution. Always remember, most likely you are not the target audience.
After running through this checklist, I will check if my understanding of the idea is like what the creative team intended. I always try to delineate what the idea is and what the execution elements are. It is not unusual that the creative team only becomes very clear about the idea after listening to my reiteration.
“The idea is showing a situation where we can turn a less-than-ideal situation into something that can bring a smile to our face. Can we just show any unfortunate situations, or shall we discuss the right parameters for it?”
“What we are trying to do here to develop some sort of tool, so consumers can simply SMS or tweet or use whatever means to tell us their locations, and they immediately get the information on where the nearest clean public toilet is.”
“We want to run a baking contest of father and daughter, don’t we?”
Once everyone is clear on what the idea is and what are the ground rules for the executions, I immediately express my opinion on whether this proposal fulfills the communication task as prescribed in the creative brief. Then I continue to discuss if we successfully trigger the right desired response, be it cognitive or emotional. Afterwards, the next topic is about branding —is it an accurate representation of the brand, is the brand distinctively portrayed. If needed, we’ll also cover if the idea is fertile or not, meaning can be translated into many channels or executed in many ways.
It is not rare that everything seems “correct” yet I don’t feel any strong initial emotional reactions to the work. Normally in situation like this, the more productive path is to discuss two things: (1)how interesting the idea is without its execution elements, and (2)how far the work can grab and sustain the audience’s attention.
Sometimes the idea is bigger than the initial strategy. Sometimes the strategy is plain wrong.
In this line of work, as someone who heads the planning department I have a final say on whether the proposal is on or off brief. If it’s off brief, I have the authority to ask for a total rework. This sounds important, but for me this demands a certain degree of maturity from my side. I have to admit sometimes the idea is bigger than the strategy. Sometimes maybe the strategy is just plain wrong. Every planner should have the readiness and humility to admit this.
This is why I believe that an agency that spends most of its energy to wage a turf war between Department Lords is an agency doomed to instant mediocrity and eventual extinction. But that’s another topic for another post.