Six Best Practices for Evaluating Creative Project Proposals

by John Ferin

The meeting is about to begin. The creative team has spent days, weeks, maybe even months massaging their concepts, tactics and messaging into the perfect presentation. You can see the beads of sweat forming on their foreheads, signaling something big is at stake here. The speakers speak, and the ideas … miss the mark. There’s no way around it: this presentation fell short of perfection, or even reasonable expectations. How do you tell the creative team their best ideas weren’t good enough?

The way we react to a teammate’s ideas, pitches and proposals will have a huge effect on whether we decide the work is “right” or “wrong.” It will also help determine what actions to take if a redirect is needed.

Here are six best practices for evaluating a creative proposal that might be less than perfect:


Before the presentation, ask your creative team to topline the creative, or strategic brief, from which the ideas were generated. If they weren’t given a brief to work from, here are a few discussion points that will help ensure everyone evaluates the ideas using the same criteria:

  • Objective – What is the primary purpose of the work? This will help remind everyone of the goal and help set expectations for those who weren’t at the project kick-off.
  • Main message – What do we want the audience’s takeaway to be upon viewing the creative?
  • Audience – Who is the messaging created for? The more specific, the better.
  • Call to action (CTA) – What specific action are we asking the audience to take (buy, click, learn etc.)?
  • Measurement – How does the team plan to evaluate the effectiveness of the creative proposal?

Time for quiet

Listen closely as your creative team sets up a presentation. Find out what you are being asked to respond to and when. Some prefer questions be held until after the presentation is complete, while other creatives encourage banter throughout. It’s best to land on common ground to avoid upsetting their momentum with your expression of love for a particular headline or visual.

Think big(ger)

Early on, don’t get too hung up on line breaks, colors, FPO (for placement only) images, etc. Try to keep your focus on the ideas, the thinking. There will be plenty of time to fiddle with minutiae as you progress into the execution phase.

Wield a velvet hammer

Ad great Bill Bernbach once said, “An idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it.” Hold this thought close as you begin formulating comments about a particular idea or concept, because the way in which you share feedback will have a dramatic effect on how the creative team responds. Many great ideas have been dispatched into the ether, or left with a limp, by the urge to provide immediate commentary. Yes, you may have a “gut reaction” to the work. But give the ideas time to marinate before reaching for the red pen.

Get beyond “I like it”

When the time comes for your sage commentary, be specific and honest. Speak to the work based on the criteria established at the beginning of the presentation. Trust your brief. If there are facets of the work that don’t align with the brief, point them out. But stop short of trying to “fix” the idea. Nothing chaps the britches of a creative like someone trying to repair their ideas on the fly. Rather, simply state your points and allow the creative team the time and the opportunity to go back and make the adjustment. Remember, if your observations are supported by the brief, they’re warranted.

Encourage the unexpected, and you’ll get the extraordinary

Ideally, your relationship with your creative team should be one based upon mutual respect and trust – a camaraderie, if you will. You want them to feel comfortable bringing ideas to the table that both satisfy the objective and challenge your way of thinking. And they want to feel safe doing so.

John Ferin leads the content strategy and development team at ddm, providing direction and creative oversight on the planning, projecting, and monitoring of all content creation efforts. John has more than two decades of experience as Creative Director and Copywriter in both agency and corporate settings.

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