Peter Fitzgerald

Giving useful and actionable feedback is an underrated skill. In an industry like marketing where creativity is a key component to success, being able to provide feedback that keeps the project moving and gets you closer to the end result you’re looking for is key.

Whether feedback is going to another member of your internal team or to a third party like an agency or freelancer, it’s always worth taking time to ensure your feedback gives that person a clear way to approach the new problem.

Moving past the initial emotional response

With creative work, it’s very easy to get caught up in the subjective. The first response to a piece of writing or design is likely to be an emotional one. That’s exactly why we use that kind of collateral to engage our target audiences.

However, providing feedback based on that initial emotional response can be counter-productive. While the initial emotive response is important – it’s the alarm bell that’s telling you the work isn’t right – more often than not it doesn’t give the other party anywhere to go.

The key step is to take a breath and unpack your initial feelings. Working out how to turn that initial response into actionable, useful feedback will keep your project moving.

From subjective to objective

To get to useful feedback, we want to move away from the subjective (the initial emotional response) and get towards the objective (points that can be actioned).

What we want to get to is feedback that is specific and actionable.

To get here, we have to take another look at the initial emotional response. We need to get to the bottom of what it was that we didn’t like, and what some of the potential solutions could be.

Look at the individual elements of the work. In the case of both design work and copy, you can give the different sections a second look – are there specific parts that didn’t work for you? By sectioning out the parts that need attention, you make it quicker and easier for the other party to make changes.

Are there parts you do like? You don’t necessarily have to go looking for redeeming features, but being able to tell the other party which elements have hit the mark might help them to understand how to fix the other elements that aren’t working.

Moving towards actionable feedback

Providing genuinely actionable feedback – e.g. change X to Y – can be challenging, particularly if you aren’t proficient in the kind of work you’re feeding back on. However, it’s important not to get bogged down in whether you know the lingo. Just because you don’t know HTML doesn’t mean you can’t give actionable feedback on a website build.

Determining the specific element that’s bothering you is the first step, then identifying what it is about it you don’t like gets you most of the way towards actionable feedback.

However, to go the extra mile you can even suggest how you might want to see it changed. This immediately puts you on the front foot of the conversation, and enables a productive back and forth between you and the other party involved.

If you feel like you don’t know how to give ideas on the specific piece of work you’re feeding back on, then don’t worry. Another way to approach this is to look at other work. Is there work you’ve been involved in previously that’s similar that you did like? Providing that as an example can help to contextualise what you need to see.

Taking it offline

While we have many options for digital communication – email, Skype and Slack, to name a few – when it comes to feedback sometimes a call or a face to face meeting is the key.

The ‘I go’, ‘you go’ nature of digital communication can lead to feedback loops feeling confrontational. The classic problems of ‘tone’ and ‘intention’ with digital comms become even more prominent due to the emotional investment that comes with creative work.

If you jump on the phone or sit down with someone, you’ll find that the feedback process becomes much smoother. Feedback on creative work is naturally a conversational activity – you need that easy back and forth to be able to hear the intent in what each party is saying.

Why good feedback matters

When you’re paying for work or receiving it from a dedicated internal resource – which could be design, development, copy, or any other creative service – it can sometimes feel like you shouldn’t need to put all this effort into your feedback.

However, coming back to some of the points made earlier, providing good feedback isn’t just good for the party doing the work, it’s also good for you.

Good feedback will:

  • Keep your project timelines moving along efficiently
  • Result in work you’re happier with
  • Improve your relationship with those third parties

All of this means you get more high-quality work faster in the future.

Any feedback?

What are your experiences of providing feedback, either to internal resources or to agencies and other third parties?

Did you find the above advice helpful? What are your tips for giving useful feedback? Let us know in the comments below!

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