A Collaborative Model of Creative Evaluation

[October 27, 2009]

Much as we like to think we’re in control, many factors influence our actions in ways we don’t always perceive. We’re deeply influenced by our culture, for example, including the “musts” and “shoulds” that govern social situations. We’re also tugged at by conditioned responses learned either in childhood or in response to any of life’s other traumatic experiences.

If you don’t believe me, give a colleague a piece of writing to evaluate. Then count the seconds before they reach for a red pen. The average probably hovers between 15–30 seconds. Now why should that be?

To me, it’s a classic case of conditioning, rooted in the first and only model most people have for evaluating someone else’s work: Their school experience. The homework paper covered with red squiggles that pops into your mind just now is the memory of a teacher’s corrections. It’s a “corrective” model of evaluation and, at least on paper, has a certain validity in the classroom.

When it comes to evaluating creative Copy, however, this corrective response is counterproductive. Advertising is a collaborative process, carried out by a team of equals. It’s a process based on assumptions set out in a creative brief you all honor.

So instead of reaching for the red pen, reach out—and discuss the assumptions behind the text. Instead of focusing on individual words, learn what your colleague was trying to achieve. Then determine whether, in your opinion, the Copy concept accurately conveys:

• The value the project itself delivers
• The end-benefit of the particular product or service
• The place that benefit occupies in the total brand universe

Next, see if you feel the tone and voice is consistent with the brand’s identity and your knowledge of the audience. Think some points are unclear, or the emphasis skewed? Make it known, but be sure to convey your concerns in actionable terms. Telling Copy creatives that “you’re not crazy about” their headlines gives them no insight into the solution you seek.

And remember: Your role is to articulate the problems you see, not solve them. That’s up to the Creative team. Instead of wasting time rewriting, recognize that writing itself is immaterial—compared to the overall structure of the communication.

That, I want to emphasize, is a Copy creative’s main function: to create the structure necessary to move consumers to action. Only when that structure is in place is it time to dither about word choices, and the 1000-and-one technical matters usually mistaken for “grammar.”

So to build a more productive, more efficient creative evaluation process, go against your conditioning and use a collaborative model. Because when it comes to evaluating Copy, it’s not about the “right words” or the “wrong words.” It’s about how well the Copy articulates the brand’s message to consumers, as it continues to unfold over time.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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