Rookie Growth Marketing Moves that Stunt your Development

Growth marketing has been around for nearly a decade, but it’s still a hotly debated marketing concept that people still don’t seem to understand. 

Startups, tech companies and executive teams who want to “shake things up” hire growth marketers left and right in an effort to keep up with their competitors.

But many growth marketers I’ve spoken to are still unsure of what their role actually requires, despite being hired specifically for the purpose. They end up falling back on traditional marketing strategies. While those work, they are not “growth” and don’t give the expected results–thereby causing even more confusion and disillusionment. 

For today’s post, I’ve invited Trevor Longino, owner of growth consultancy firm Crowdtamers. Trevor knows his stuff, having delivered his clients more than $20 million in revenue through sound content and growth marketing strategies. 

That figure is kind of central to what makes growth marketers different from your traditional marketer. Although both use many of the same tactics and techniques to attract customers, growth marketers are hyper-focused on growing an engaged customer base in as fast and as scalable a manner as possible. It involves data, experimentation, and a lot of trial and error. 

“Growth marketers aren’t perfect,” says Trevor. “We can be cockwombles, too. We’re given lots of responsibility, so our screw-ups have a large impact. I often see short-sighted strategies that seem benign–even helpful–on the surface, but actually hurt growth, not encourage it.”

According to Trevor, these mistakes fall into one of four categories:

  1. Forgetting the fundamentals
  2. Spreading too wide, too fast
  3. Ignoring the law of diminishing returns
  4. Poor documentation

Let’s break them down one at a time:

1. Forgetting the fundamentals

“It’s easy to leap directly into your favorite tactic,” Trevor admits. After all, when you’ve launched scores of campaigns for dozens of clients, you’re bound to have it down to a routine. “But doing so means you ignore the core persona, the USP and simply knowing how to talk to a customer.”

Yes, you drive short-term growth, but that’s based entirely on the strength of the tactic itself. You’re not developing long-term brand growth and market position, because it’s not aligned with your core audience. 

2. Spreading too wide, too fast

Today’s marketers have so many options that there’s no end of places in which you can invest your attention and money. But therein lies the danger. 

According to Trevor, “It’s unwise to create eight different campaigns on one channel, or to launch on four channels at once just because you can. You’re robbing yourself of impact.”

Instead, focus on testing and improving one core loop at a time. It will result in greater long-term growth than noodling around in half a dozen things at once. Trevor recommends picking a channel based on PIER scoring and then–here’s the important part–sticking with it for long enough that you can see growth over time. 

3. Ignoring the law of diminishing returns

And then you have the other side of the coin. It’s easy to get so fixated on a single or narrow course of action that you start to see less positive results. Sure, you can continue to tinker and tweak elements of the channel, but there’s now only fractional improvement.

“It’s easy to get sucked into making your growth loops perfect if you don’t have ideas for a big new growth loop. Don’t fall into that trap,” Trevor advises. Get a core growth loop to perform consistently, and then move on to building a new loop that will add more substantially to your bottom line. 

4. Document poorly

Documentation isn’t just for software developers. 

Poor documentation leads to a number of problems that stunt your team’s development. You won’t be able to remember everything, and so you won’t be able to repeat your successes. You can’t scale a team if you can’t share what you’ve learned. And you can’t hand off work to others if there’s nothing they can reference (except your own musings). 

“Your value as a growth person,” Trever stresses, “is to help a business find a repeatable and scalable system to make money. If you document lessons, hypotheses and performance, you’ll be able to recall lessons learned and build a growth team to support you.” 

Once that’s done, the organization will then be able to scale as the needs for growth do. 

The final word

Remember, growth marketing owns the flow of customers into and out of the product. Every single part of the funnel is ripe for improvement. If it means going into the bottom of the funnel and overhauling the entire customer success process, then do it. 

Just make sure you are taking the long view when you do. As we discussed above, short-term tactics aren’t going to get you very far. It’s the long view that creates winners. 

Trevor Longino is the owner of CrowdTamers, an international marketing training and consultancy firm that specializes in growth strategy and marketing automation. Read his LinkedIn Pulse articles for effective growth insights!

10 Hidden Hacks for Running a Great Tradeshow


Planning and executing a tradeshow is an ambitious campaign with a tremendous payoff–and not just for you. 

A well-run tradeshow will help exhibitors expand their business’ growth, help attendees network and learn and help you establish your reputation as an event to look forward to. 

There’s a lot of advice out there for how to run a great tradeshow, but much of it covers the broad strokes. It’s general advice that you can easily pick up the first time you run an event. 

I wanted to dig a little deeper than that, so I consulted with several experienced tradeshow organizers (who requested anonymity) for tradeshow management tips that they’ve picked up over years of hard experience. 

1. Swag carefully

Not everything is a sponsorship opportunity. 

One memorable anecdote involved a show that allowed a sponsor to buy the event’s toilet paper. The branded toilet paper was too thick and wouldn’t flush.

I’ll let your imagination handle the rest. 

2. Climate control

Room temperature has a big yet hidden impact on the show’s mood. Too hot, and people will be surly. Too cold, and they’ll be too frigid to enjoy themselves. Keep temperature cool but not too cold, and you can maybe even offer sponsors the option to pay for light blankets for the attendees. 

3. Vet exhibitors wisely

Yeah, you need to fill up booth space. But don’t let your sales team pick every Tom, Dick and Harry that wants a booth. Keep consistent with your theme and keep track of how many of each type of business you’ve already signed on. 

4. Drinks are on us

Hydrate people! Attendees love it when the show offers common sodas and beverages during meals or in break rooms. If you’re not catering the show, at least provide water stations so that people aren’t forced to buy from the coffee shop when they’re thirsty. 

5. Provide plenty of setup/break down time

Many shows only give exhibitors four hours to set up their booths. This creates a madhouse as people run in and out, forgetting stuff from the car and getting in each other’s way. It stresses out exhibitors and ruins their memory of the event.

Compare this to a two-day allowance, and you’ll have exhibitors who are much more relaxed come tradeshow day. Have them save their energy for when they actually need it–on the tradeshow floor talking to attendees. 

6. Give quick access to security

You’re going to need to call security at some point. Whether it’s an exhibitor who got too much into their cups, a would-be thief, or some jerk who tried to harass someone, security needs to come deal with the situation right away. 

Have security do regular patrols. Provide a call-in number to all exhibitors and attendees. Give every staff member walkie-talkies. Get an event app that has a panic button feature. Anything that helps people get help faster.

A safe event is a great event. 

7. Train staff to identify badges

Certain areas of your tradeshow will be restricted-access, whether it’s an attendee-only networking event or an exhibitor-only break room. And I can guarantee you 100% that someone is going to try to sneak in where they shouldn’t. 

Some events require badges to be scanned, although this isn’t always reliable as some wily people wait for the usher to be distracted before slipping past. 

Train staff to visually identify the different badges used, even from a distance, so that they can pick out people who are lurking where they shouldn’t and watch for any funny business. 

8. Make sure staff are always informed

Communicate, communicate, communicate. 

I once staffed an event that gave front-row seats to children from a local orphanage. Except the kids never showed up, because security had not been informed and was refusing them entry. 

There’s no such thing as “need to know” in a tradeshow. Every staff member should know what is going on and when. Attendees will ask them weird and random questions about the event program. Arm them with information ahead of time. 

9. Don’t delegate signage to a vendor

Your marketing agency might be willing to handle the design and printing of your show signage, but don’t let them work unsupervised. A common horror story involves printers who misprinted event agendas and room numbers, and designers who used the wrong logo for a sponsor and thus incurred their wrath. 

Check and double-check all room numbers, speaker names and logos before sending it off for final printing. And even then you’d better inspect every finished standee, banner and tabletop sign before putting it on the floor. 

10. Rebooking at the show

The best time to get  people to rebook is at the show itself! Set up a nice sales office and offer candy and treats to visitors who drop in. Remind people in the announcements that exhibitors can rebook at the show and get a nice discount when they do. 

So basically…

A good or bad event isn’t defined by one factor. It’s defined by multiple tiny memories and events. A good sales conversation here, a bad encounter there. Focus on giving your exhibitors and attendees as many good memories as possible, and you’ll have an event that will sell out every single year. 

Why Other Departments Diss Marketing (and How to Make them Stop)

Is your team the black sheep in the company? Do other departments discount marketing’s contributions? Are your requests to other teams met with sighs and grudging cooperation—if at all?

If so, then your team has a reputation problem.

I’m pretty sure your team didn’t start out that way. Something is causing frowny faces, and you need to find out what it is before it gets out of hand.

Here are some likely causes:

Shiny object syndrome

You know what the product team hears when marketing proposes features based on “market trends” and “competitive research?”

“Let’s chase this new shiny object and hope it works out.”

Does your accounting software really need that fancy Enterprise Strategic Planner module when your customers are mostly small business owners? Probably not! But marketing must have it, because either:

  1. Gartner said that’s what the top-performing ERPs are doing,
  2. The ICFA 2019 Keynote was very convincing
  3. Competitor A just released a similar feature, or
  4. That’s what everyone is searching for these days.

Which one is the wrong answer?

All of them.

The product development and customer success team roll their eyes any time marketing votes at roadmap meetings, because their votes are almost always influenced by one of the above. It’s almost as if marketing is insecure about the company’s identity and needs validation from outside influences.

Don’t get me wrong: external research has its place. But the biggest danger about conclusions drawn from outside the company is that it ignores the people closest to you: your customers.

Don’t be everything to everyone. Narrow your focus. Serve the needs of your current customers. Don’t get caught up in the glitz and glamour of what other people are doing and concentrate on marketing to your target audience.

Don’t know who your target audience is? That’s a completely different problem.

Sales isn’t happy with your MQLs

In an ideal world, sales and marketing should be best buds: two partners, back to back against the rest of the world (or your competitors).

What we get, however, is finger-pointing and back-stabbing. Sales doesn’t pick up the leads that marketing hands over, and the leads are left to rot. From marketing’s perspective, sales isn’t doing their job.

But is it really sales’ problem? There are a number of reasons that sales might be ignoring your leads, and some of them might be on your shoulders. A few possibilities include:

  • Your MQLs don’t actually qualify
  • You and sales don’t share the same priorities
  • Marketing has a poor track record

You won’t actually know what the problem is until you have a heart-to-heart with the sales team. Figure out the root cause (or causes) and put together a plan to address them. Then do a regular team review to see if your lead quality has improved.

Marketing’s value isn’t being felt

Every organization has marketing skeptics, but you know you have a problem when the people who are supposed to be backing you are the ones questioning your worth.

Like, you know, your boss.

You need to do a quick self-check the moment you notice their attitude changing.

Do they have a point? Have your marketing numbers been suffering? Have any of your recent efforts under-performed? Are the MQLs you send sales being picked up?

If the answer to any of the questions above is “yes,” then don’t wait for your boss to meet with you about it—because when he does, that’s already a reprimand. Seize the initiative and meet with him instead. Tell him you’ve noticed the numbers slipping and that you’re working to address it (and tell him how). 

If the answer is “no,” then you probably need to do a better job promoting yourself to the company. Don’t let sales hog the limelight! Show off your team’s success! Publicly congratulate your team on a job well done. Make sure others know that your team is making valuable contributions to the company.

Marketing gets to do the “fun” stuff

Trade conferences, press events, photo/video shoots and event marketing are serious work and can be a real drain on energy. But when viewed from the perspective of people stuck in the office all the time, marketing is a non-stop glam party.

And they do have a point. Some industry conferences are so over the top they’re basically paid vacations. *COUGH* DREAMFORCE *AHEM*.

So how can you conquer the misconception that marketing is all play and no work?

Give them a taste of what it’s like.

Next time you hold an event or something similar, ask for volunteers from other departments. Have them assist in everything from event logistics to crowd control. Stuff goodie bags. Greet guests. Set up and tear down. They’ll be able to appreciate the commitment and work that goes into a well-run marketing project.

Or, you might end up reinforcing the idea that marketing does get to do the fun stuff.

(Because honestly, we do.)

So basically…

“Haters gonna hate” is completely the wrong attitude to have in a professional environment. It’s poison and you need to excise it right away.

Find out the cause and do whatever needs to be done to resolve it in a positive and professional manner—whether that cause is personal, professional or both.

How to Control Frivolous Marketing Requests

“Hey, can you send me the latest copy of the brochure?”

“What was that thing we did last year?”

“Print up 500 cards for me, need it tomorrow.”

We dream about running marketing departments that function more like production companies, that churn out award-winning campaigns that convert and get kudos from all over the company and the industry at large.

The reality is that we spend most of our days fielding thousands of minor and pointless requests for business cards, asset updates and—most hated of all: “can you send me the latest version of X brochure?”

It’s enough to drive one to drink.

You, like other marketing managers, have become an order taker. Your activities are controlled by the needs of others. You’ve lost control of your team’s momentum and are resigned to just playing whack-a-mole with minor requests.

Corral those frivolous marketing requests and take control of your team’s project sheet. Start increasing your value to the organization by applying a few simple changes:

Set up a queue

Internal requests are like a mob of unruly children. They come from everywhere at once: email, instant messenger, over the phone and even through the grapevine (e.g. “hey, Director X told me to tell you to print up new business cards for Employee B”).

You waste so much energy trying to keep track of them all that you won’t be able to properly prioritize these requests, let alone determine if they’re actually necessary.  

Establish control over how requests come in. Set up a process where people can make these minor requests. It could be an online request form, a specific email address, or a single contact person. The point is to direct all requests to that one channel so that they’re all in one place and easier to review.

And—this is the critical point—stick to the rules. If you are requiring people fill out a form to request business cards, don’t accept an email request even if it’s just “this one time.” Word will get around that the form is meaningless and people won’t follow your new system.

Open a self-serve lane

What do you think is more efficient: flagging a waiter every time a diner needs water, or leaving a pitcher and letting them serve themselves?

Your team needs to take the same approach.

Make as many tasks as self-serve as possible. For example, post assets in a single accessible location such as a shared drive or a digital asset management platform. Announce the location internally and tell people that they can pick up whatever they need from that library.

There are really advanced DAM platforms that can even templatize the production of digital assets, where a sales person can just type in customer-specific details like name or industry, and be able to publish pre-formatted brochures themselves.

Human nature being what it is, people will still ask you for stuff, but now you can point to the shared drive and say, “get it from there.”

This frees up your team for bigger and meatier projects that will be more worth their time.

Treat yourself like a customer

Don’t get so caught up in doing other people’s tasks that you forget to do your own. Your tasks should take just as much (if not more) importance over everyone else’s.

If you need to trick yourself into doing this psychologically, then fill out your own request form and put it as a ticket in your project management system.

Stick to your own established deadlines. Fight the temptation to shelve your tasks just to accommodate whoever is screaming the loudest.

If you managed to do the above two steps, then you should have enough breathing room to begin doing more of your own work.

Let me just mention that there’s nothing wrong with a department that functions as order-takers—if that’s what the team was built to do. It fulfills a strong tactical purpose, and that’s perfectly fine. On the other hand, if you’d rather have a self-motivated department that creates strategically valuable projects?

Time to set up the take-out window.  

Why Isn’t Sales Following Up My MQLs???

Ever feel like sales is wasting your marketing team’s time? 

You pour so much time and effort (and money!) into hosting events, sending emails, erecting landing pages and parading around on social media, only for sales to ignore your hard-won leads!

Doesn’t it just make you want to FLIP THE TABLE?

Don’t.

Sure, sales isn’t following up on your leads. That’s frustrating, but there’s probably a reason behind it. It might not be a good reason, or a reason that’s under your control, but it’s there nevertheless. And if you can discover the why, then you can discover the fix

Here are some of the most likely reasons sales is ignoring your MQLs: 

Sales has their own leads to follow up

Sales is a fast-paced, high-pressure environment, and the average sales person would rather prioritize leads that are further down the funnel than those they need to nurture from scratch. As the saying goes, “a bird in the hand is worth MQLs in the bush.” 

But wait, isn’t sales supposed to rely on your leads for their call list?

Usually! But if your sales reps are performing the functions of both Account Manager and Sales Development Representative at the same time, then they’re going to have their own crop of leads to harvest. Your MQLs are just going to be backup leads in case their real (“real”) funnel dries up. 

Sales doesn’t know they have new leads

You don’t know what happens when you lob a lead over the cubicle wall. You don’t see which sales rep catches it or what they’re doing with it. 

Sometimes, they don’t even know there’s anything there. 

When leads are missed, there’s usually a problem with your turnover process. For example, the process could’ve recently been changed, and people are still doing it the old way. Maybe you or one of your team has set up a marketing campaign, and the leads aren’t being assigned properly. It could even be that the CRM is being mismanaged and nobody’s picked up on it yet. 

Whatever the case, you need to track down the gap in your workflow and plug it as soon as possible. 

They’re too busy to follow up on leads

This might seem like a great problem on the surface (business must be booming, right?), but could actually be a symptom of a huge staffing problem

If your company doesn’t have enough trained and productive sales people, then even great MQLs are just going to just going to sit there until they lose interest, and you’ll have lost thousands of dollars in opportunities. 

It takes the average sales person an average of 3 months to be competent at selling your product, and even longer for them to be consistently good. If your company’s sales team finds itself short-handed, expect leads to languish in the funnel for a good long while–even if they hire a new rep right away. 

The MQLs don’t match sales’ priorities

Do you want to know what happens when sales is told to promote Product A but you keep sending them leads for Product B? 

That’s right! They ignore your leads in order to sell Product A. 

This usually happens when sales and marketing don’t talk to each other. Marketing comes up with a fancy new campaign for something, but sales prioritizes growth in a different direction. The result is wasted effort on marketing’s side, and stunted growth on the sales side (since their prospecting isn’t being supported by marketing’s leads). 

Sales is sick of low quality leads

The truth hurts. 

Sales is ignoring your leads because your leads aren’t panning out. You’ve lost their trust, and you’re going to have a heck of a time convincing them to take your MQLs seriously. 

This might happen because you’re entering a new market, or because the marketing person in charge of strategy is new/doesn’t know what they’re doing. 

How do I fix this???

It’s easy for marketing to point at sales and yell, “get your house in order!” But really, this is a problem that you need to work out together. Here are some approaches that may help:

A stronger sales/marketing partnership. You can solve most of the problems I mentioned above just by talking to the sales team. Open lines of communication and have regular alignment meetings. Marketing is meant to serve sales, so make sure you’re both walking in the same direction. 

Meet with sales on a regular basis to assess the quality of the leads and further refine your criteria for what makes an ideal MQL. 

Process automation. If inbound leads are getting ignored, then set up an automated alert for leads that have been sitting too long. Set up your CRM or marketing automation system to notify the sales manager if a lead has not been contacted in X days (depends on your sales cycle). 

Set up/refine your lead scoring. If sales is having trouble keeping up with the flow of leads, then set up a lead scoring system so that they can prioritize the best ones. Work with sales to determine the different criteria and their weight, so that the scores are logical and a good indicator of their potential value. 

So basically…

Don’t just raise your fists to the sky and curse your sales team. Figure out what their challenges are and be the first to come up with a solution. Not only will this endear you to the sales team and improve your working relationship, but it will also prove marketing’s value to the rest of the organization. 

Strong Starts: How to Onboard New Marketing Employees Properly

My first day at my first job was kind of a shit show (pardon my French.) 

The agency had ordered me a new desktop PC, but it hadn’t arrived yet. So I had to hot seat (literally) with another employee and could only use his machine when he went out for meetings. My training didn’t amount to much, and my early days were filled with make-work and minor tasks until they could find the time to orient me properly. 

This is an example of what you should not do when onboarding new marketers (or any employee, really.) Yet it happens way more often than it should. 88% of employees think their employer botched the onboarding process, and I know mine did. 

Poor onboarding isn’t a harmless issue. It costs the business, and it costs a lot. Companies in the U.S. and U.K. spend an estimated $37 billion just to keep unproductive employees who don’t understand their job

More importantly, proper onboarding helps you as a marketing manager. According to the Society for Human Resources Management, new hires who go through standardized onboarding are 50% more productive right out of the gate. 

Sounds good, right? So how can you get some of that onboarding magic going in your team? Especially when you haven’t ever done it before?

Read on, fair reader. Read on.

Start before their first day

Your relationship with your new hire doesn`t start on their first official day at the office; it starts the moment they accept your offer. Give them things to do well before their start date.

Now, you might think you’re taking advantage of your new hire and asking them to do unpaid work. But I view it as an extension of a candidate researching you before an interview. They don’t have to, but the best hires will do it because they know it’s smart to be prepared. 

Other companies agree with this outlook. According to Aberdeen, best-in-class companies are 35% more likely to begin onboarding before day one. 

Prep can take multiple forms. You can have them do background research on the product they’ll be marketing or read your company manual. It can be reading the company blog or going through the library of videos. As long as it equips them better for their upcoming task. 

Have everything ready the first day

I’ve seen a lot of LinkedIn posts where new hires receive oodles of swag on their first day. All that stuff is definitely exciting and an extremely shareable moment, but you don’t have to go that far yourself (especially if you don’t have any swag to share).

Just focus on making sure the employee has the essentials:

  • A computer (and the password for it)
  • A desk of their own (that’s not in the kitchen)
  • Wifi password
  • Email address

Those 4 items are mere table stakes. And yet so many managers are caught with their pants down when the new hire walks in the door, as if it was a surprise inspection or something! It boggles the mind.

Share personal/team goals and expectations

One of the biggest things I hated about starting my first job was how lost I felt. Asides from broad strokes (manage my own accounts once I’m onboarded), I had no idea what to expect, or what was expected of me. I was new to everything–the company, the industry, and even life as an employee. 

My supervisor, bless her heart, was awesome and tried her best, but she was too busy with her own duties to spend much time with me. 

One-on-one time with the direct manager is the most important part of onboarding and so you have to be ready and willing to give as much of your time as physically possible to your new hire. 

Use this time to share your team’s goals and your expectations for what the new hire will accomplish in their first few months. Have the newbie share their personal and professional goals with you as well. You’ll be able to better manage and motivate if you know what excites them (professionally).  

Appoint a New Hire Buddy

Being there for your new hire is important, but despite what I said above, you can’t be there for them all the time. 

A new hire buddy, on the other hand, will be able to show them everything from the company intranet to using Marketo to the best places to have lunch. They’ll be able to use job shadowing to speed up the new hire’s proficiency

The actual length of the buddy relationship can be anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on how complicated the job is. But if it goes right, the new hire will have a new friend/mentor who can guide them for their entire stay on your team. 

Do the rounds of the company

Give your new hire a list of people to meet 1 on 1 in their first few weeks. This list should be composed of people from different teams. This isn’t a simple getting-to-know-you session; it’s also so they can see how the different teams work together. 

This is valuable for people who work in content marketing, so that they can get introduced to the internal resources who can help them with their projects– especially for anything involving product details or customer insights. 

But don’t just point the new hire at them and say “go!” As the manager, you have to be the one to “recruit” the people on the list to make sure they’re willing to talk. 

Make resources easily available

Company handbooks, reference materials and marketing assets should all be easily available to your new hire. If they’re not, they’ll be pestering you and everyone around them for weeks.

Solutions like SharePoint and Soaq.co are good dedicated solutions for hosting all of these materials, but you can also get away with using One Drive, Dropbox or even a shared folder on your server. 

How can you tell if your new hire is growing into the role? By feel? Anecdotal evidence? A progress bar floating atop their head?

Written curriculum with learning milestones and KPIs

60% of companies fail to set milestones or goals for their new hires, which can result in stunted or slow professional development and reduced productivity. 

Set reasonable milestones for your employee based on job proficiency or metrics. For example, you might set something like this for a new content marketer:

  • 2 weeks: Upload first new post in Hubspot
  • 1 month: Create and publish first drip campaign in Marketo
  • 2 month: Take over blog and email campaign management

Your goals should also have KPIs that tell you how well they’re doing those tasks. Social media roles could be measured in engagement, while PPC roles would be based on conversions. Keep these expectations reasonable and scale up the difficulty as time progresses and the new hire improves.

Have them audit what they’re managing

This is a fantastic exercise that will show you what your new hire is capable of. Yes, something similar could’ve been done in the interview, but if you do it now, they will have greater access to the materials, metrics and manpower that they wouldn’t have had as a candidate–which means a more accurate and useful audit. 

Have them present their new findings to the team and conduct an open discussion. Which findings were correct? Which ones were wrong? Why were they wrong? Do you agree with the proposed action items? How does this affect the company marketing playbook?

This also helps the team see the new hire as more than fresh meat. They are a living, breathing and thinking part of the company now, and will be able to help if given the chance. 

So basically…

Onboarding is more than just an email address and a welcome kit. It’s paving the way for your employee to succeed in your organization. The faster they get good at the job, the faster their responsibilities are taken off your plate. You are helping them make your life easier. 

Go forth and onboard!

Up Next: Why Isn’t Sales Following Up???

The Right and Wrong Ways to Give Feedback to Creatives (with Examples)

How to Give Creatives Feedback

“This copy sucks.”

“Your photos are terrible.”

“What the @#&% were you smoking when you designed this?”

As a marketing project manager, I understand that a creative asset needs to be reworked multiple times before it can be considered suitable for publication, and that multiple internal and external parties need to be able to voice their opinions.

As a writer, however, I understand that I am a trembling, person-shaped toothpick-tower of insecurities. I am in constant fear that the next round of edits will break my heart, shatter my pride and drive me to drink. 

I exaggerate, of course (but not by much).

I’ve heard many marketing managers defend themselves for being “tough,” “brutally honest,” “efficient” or even “professional” (hint: it’s not), and they almost always end up with creatives whose output is listless and bland. In a word: safe

At best, poor feedback is unhelpful and won’t help make the asset better. At worst, you risk killing a person’s motivation to either work on the project, or work for you

There are much better ways to give feedback–feedback that helps the project move forward, helps the creative  improve their skils, and helps them know your own (or the client’s) creative preferences. 

I’ve included examples of the wrong and right way to do it below:

1. Edit the work, not the person

I get that deadlines are stressful, and the client is up in your business, and that you’re still working on the same thing after the fifth round of revisions. But there is no excuse for going all Gordon Ramsey on your creative team. 

Restrict your comments to the work itself. Never comment on any aspect of the person’s personality, appearance, upbringing, racial background or education. That’s called getting personal, and that’s a quick trip to HR. 

Yes: “I think the layout looks too busy.”

No: “That shit looks as chaotic as your hair.”

2. Be as specific as possible

Want to know the quickest way to anger a creative? Give vague feedback. 

Generic comments don’t help the creative fix your problem. What it does do is ensure that the next version will:

  1. Have the same problem
  2. Go completely in the wrong direction
  3. Be a complete waste of time
  4. All of the above.

Examine your reaction to the work and break down what is causing the issue. What is the source of your dissatisfaction? What would you change to make it better?

Yes: “The stock photo looks dated.”

No: “This is bullshit.”

3. Tell them the problem, not the solution

Are you a designer yourself? Then maybe don’t tell the person with an art degree how to fix a design problem. 

It’s human nature to want to pitch in helpful ideas. But unless you have relevant experience in that role yourself, your attempt to “helpfully instruct” will just lead to more problems. Worse, you won’t even see them as problems because they’re your suggestions, and you’re automatically biased towards your own opinions. 

Also, recommending a single course of action stifles creativity and eliminates possibilities of a much better solution. 

Yes: “That font is hard to read.”

No: “Use Comic Sans size 52. It’ll really make the CTA pop. AND USE ALL COLORS OF THE RAINBOW.”

4. Don’t do the work for them

Sort of related the previous point, however offenders in this case take it to a whole different level. These are the type of people who will “take matters into their own hands” because if you “want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”

One of the worst project managers I’d ever met would literally sit at the designers desk and point out where the designer should retouch an artwork. Down. To. The. Pixel. 

Yes: “Here are the edits. Let me know when you’re done.”

No: “I thought it needed a fresh set of eyes so I redid the entire logo. No need to thank me.”

5. Stay goal-focused

You’re not doing this asset to make someone happy (well, not only that). You have a larger business objective to serve.

As a marketing manager you should always be ready to question the direction you’re given in service of the larger goal. Doing so increases the chances of you contributing to the bottom line and proving marketing’s value. 

Yes: “The writing’s good, but it’s not going to convert.”

No: “Yes! More dank memes!”

6. Make it a conversation

The best collaboration happens when two people are, you know, collaborating

One-sided conversations or directions are narrow by their very nature. If something doesn’t work and you can’t quite pin it down, talk to your creative about it and see what you can do to get the creative juices flowing. They will be able to give input based on other projects they’ve worked on and, even if that doesn’t work, at least they’ll understand where you’re coming from.

Yes: “How can we make this more informal?”

No: “Substitute the “Greetings” for “Yo, wassup.”

7. Allow them to push back

You hired the creative for their expertise, knowledge, and skill. If they have an opinion on your edits, then it’s worth listening to. 

You might not always agree with their opinion, or be able to act on it (especially if the edit is client-driven), but give them a voice anyway. They will respect you as a leader and you may even learn a few things along the way. 

Yes: “Good point, let’s do another version and see what the client likes more.”

No: “Shut your pie-hole and get to work.”

8. Give them their space

Creatives aren’t an assembly line that can pump out deliverables to a set timeline. Just because I can type at 63 wpm, doesn’t mean I’m actually working at that speed.

When you set a creative to a task, leave them be. Micromanaging will just stress them out and force them into doing work just to get you off their back, and not because they think it’s good. 

Yes: “How much time will you need for this?”

No: “I want this done by the time I’m back from lunch.”

9. Explain what you like

Don’t be a Negative Nancy all the time. Yes, you have to communicate changes and improvements to whatever creative gives you, but you should also tell them what you and the client like. 

Not only does this make the creative feel better about the work, but it also reinforces desirable design trends and habits, and encourages them to take risks and surprise you with new ideas. 

Yes: “I really like those Kirby Dots you put in the background.”

No: “It’ll do, I guess.”

10. Consolidate feedback

I totally get that a project needs to be approved by multiple people before it gets published (including you), but just because feedback gets to you piecemeal, doesn’t mean that your creative has to suffer through the same thing.

There are a bunch of reasons to consolidate feedback:

  1. Edits from different people might contradict each other. Resolve that before handing it to the creative
  2. You might be taking bad suggestions from someone you should be ignoring. I was once told to ignore edits from a CEO who was only included “to make him feel involved.”
  3. Drip-feeding edits slows the creative down. Instead of banging out the edits in one go, he has to open, fix, save, publish/render, and upload multiple times. 
  4. A constant stream of tiny changes is frickin’ annoying.

Side note: This is how you get filenames like *_final1.pdf, *_final2.pdf and *_final-final.pdf

Yes: “I marked the PDF with all of the edits from the client’s team.”

No: “Disregard the edits from yesterday. I have a new round of edits from the big boss.”

11. Be direct and honest

From all the above tips, you might think that I am telling you to treat creatives with kid gloves; to be careful of their feelings and avoid upsetting them. Treat them like the special snowflakes that they are.

Nope!

Be a straight-shooter. Tell it like it is. Don’t dance around the point. Tell them exactly what you need to tell them and be honest with your assessment of their work. 

Just don’t get personal or emotional when you do.

Yes: “I know you put a lot of effort in this, but you’re gonna have to do it all over again.”

No: “Yeah, um. Maybe it needs, um. A bit more work? BUTI’MNOTTELLINGYOUIT’SHORRIBLEIT’SACTUALLYPRETTYGOOD.”

Bonus: Have your team’s back

Your team will be much more open to your feedback if they’re confident you will back them up when needed. 

Defend their work to the client or stakeholder. Protect them from terrible design decisions. Insulate them from unnecessary meetings. Be mindful of their creative sensibilities and encourage their career growth. 

In other words: be an awesome boss.

Up Next: Why Isn’t Sales Using My Marketing Leads?!?!?