“It’s Just Not Pony Enough”: 6 Tips for Improving Communication Between Marketers and Creatives


jennings pony"It’s just not pony enough.”

Marketing Manager
My Little Pony

The quote above was the full extent of creative feedback to an email my creative team and I developed for Hasbro’s My Little Pony group back in the early aughts.

This wasn’t the first time I’d experienced the marketing-creative communication disconnect, but it was the first time I experienced it as part of the creative team. Before I launched my own consulting/creative agency, I was always on the brand side; suddenly I was on the creative side of the net and I acquired a new appreciation for how difficult it can be for the two sides to truly understand one another.

Whether the creative team is in-house or an outside agency doesn’t really matter, either situation can cause either above- or below-average results based on the quality of the communication.

I’ve seen poor communication cause frustration and an end product that no one is happy with; I’ve also had fabulous experiences working on great deliverables when there is excellent communication between marketing and creative.

Here are a few tips to help you improve communication and get the latter – whether you’re on the marketing or the creative side of the equation.

  1. Take a team approach

jennings pony2When you’re working on an email campaign it doesn’t matter whether you’re in marketing or creative – or for that matter technology or support – you all have the same goal: an effective campaign that meets or exceeds business goals.

As a result, you are a ‘de facto’ team – and keeping this thought top of mind can help improve communication. This is true whether your creative shop is in-house or outside.

2. Start with Something Nice
jennings pony3Much of the communication between marketing and creative team players comes in the form of feedback on email messages that are being developed. Usually the most important part of these memos are notes on changes that need to be made to the creative, but that doesn’t mean that’s all that should be included.

I always try to start my creative feedback by saying something nice about the copy and/or design. It’s usually easy to find something I like about anything I am shown – and often there’s something that truly delights me. The time it takes to share this with the copywriter or designer is minimal, but it goes a long way toward building a positive working relationship.

3. Be Specific
jennings pony4The more specific your feedback, the higher the likelihood of getting a next round that’s more in line with your expectations. This goes for the simple stuff, like noting that you saw a typo but not detailing the word or where it was, as well as the more complex.

Often the way to be more specific starts with deconstructing what’s in front of you. If you can parse the whole and isolate its elements into what works and what doesn’t, that can help you focus on what needs to change (and give you something positive to mention in feedback, see item #1 above).

4. 4. Handle Tough Discussions Verbally

jennings pony5

I am a fan of email, but some ideas are better handled verbally. If there are a lot of changes or if the initial copy/design really missed the mark, write up your comments but be sure to also walk through them with your creative team.

Sometimes I do this before I send the written notes; other times I send the notes and then request a call to discuss. Difficult conversations are often better handled verbally, as email has no tone – it’s about making sure your comments are understood but also about building and/or maintaining that positive working relationship.

5. Focus on Things that Will (Truly) Impact Performance

jennings pony6

Just this morning I was on a call discussing a headline – should it be “Keep Your Smile Healthy…” or “Keep Their Smile Healthy…?” My inclination was to use “Your” but there were some good points to be made for using “Their” as well.

In the end, even though this is headline, I don’t see either of these options significantly boosting (or depressing) the bottom-line performance of this email message. So, the answer is whichever the client prefers. If it’s not going to impact performance, decide and move on to something that will

6. 2 Rounds to Final

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This was one of the most difficult things for me to learn as a marketer, but I am so grateful to the creative team at Congressional Quarterly who forced me to live by this principle.

First-round client review: Identify issues and provide feedback to address them.

Second-round client review: Confirm that the changes made resolve the issues identified in the first round; tweak if they don’t.

Final round client review: Approve the tweaks, move forward.

While this process requires some discipline, I’ve found that (like me) clients like it once they get used to it. Sometimes we need to go additional rounds, and that’s fine; but if everyone is working toward ‘2 Rounds to Final’ you can get there more often than not. This saves time and frustration – and keeps projects on schedule.

In Closing

Healthy communication makes everything better – the final product, the process, the business relationships between team members. Do you have other tips for smoothing the marketing-creative disconnect? If so, share them below and let’s start a discussion!

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