Doug Garnett’s Blog


Does Your Ad Agency Learn from Hard Results?

It’s fundamentally human. The feedback we receive (intentional or unintentional) shapes our actions in the future.

Unfortunately, there’s a pile of cheap phrases around that come out of this reality — like the dully bureaucratic phrase “teachable moments”.

But there’s a critical reality: We all respond to those things that feed back to us as we take our next actions. And as companies and agencies, we need to think deeply about the feedback loops that shape our team’s future actions.

Consider a Truly Objective Feedback Loop…in a Machine Shop.

Having relied on feedback to improve our work, I was interested by discussion of workplace feedback in the book “Shop Class as Soul Craft”. The author notes the destructive subjectiveness of the feedback in most of today’s white collar work world where one succeeds by keeping the boss happy – without an objective way to make that happen.

He contrasts that with the objective feedback in many blue collar jobs with an example that is instructive. When a machinist makes a part and takes it to their supervisor, the supervisor gets out the calipers to measure it. Then the discussion is very productive: “The spec says it should be 10.5mm’s. The calipers say it’s 11. Fix it.”

What a strikingly different feedback than we find in the agency world – feedback is often driven solely by some version of a highly political sense that the powers that be “like” or “dis-like” the work.

The Three Tiers of Smart Feedback

So let me recommend that every agency create an intentional way they deliver feedback. And the right basis for that feedback isn’t a mystery – it should be based on three tiers starting with objective data.

The first tier is obvious: hard economic data. In other words, the specific market impacts of advertising (profits, market share, retail space, sell through, sales volumes). I hear agencies (even media directors) who tell me it can’t be done. But that’s a cop out. It’s not always easy – but hard economic impact data should always be the starting point for learning.

The second tier is market research. Because of the vagaries of advertising, economic results need to be augmented with market research – well constructed and executed primary market research like well executed focus groups or smart & savvy survey data. I’ve heard some creatives object strenuously to this research. And some agencies abuse the research. But usually, I find creative teams fear objective feedback. That’s not acceptable. Just make sure you ask consumers about what matters (the impact of the advertising) and not about creative choices (like color or font selections).

The final tier is instinctive judgement. Instinct is critical in business and advertising. And instinct delivers tremendous power when it’s guided by data and research. So embrace instinct as a valid 3rd source for feedback. And, do this with caution. Because no matter how good one’s instincts, there are times when instincts are wrong – very wrong.

But Don’t Make it Bureaucratic.

Organizational management could quickly clutter the discussion with standards, benchmarks, absolutes, and language so thick that all the value in feedback is lost. And sadly, creating this clutter that interferes with solid feedback is a focus in HR textbooks and magazines where structures are recommended that over-ride insight and attempt to eliminate the need for professional judgement.

Don’t let that happen. Feedback supplies motivated professionals (because that’s who should work in agencies) with information they can use to make their work better. So keep it intelligent so that everyone becomes engaged in understanding the feedback.

Feedback Loops are Powerful.

In my own agency’s work, I’m still learning. Fortunately, our work causes such large immediate economic impact that we’re able to learn from all three tiers – and learn well from them. That said, as CEO I am still learning where my own unspoken feedback puts out messages I don’t intend – something I suspect is a lifelong challenge for us all.

Still, my own experience is clear: By creating ways to learn from the results of our work we deliver far more for clients (and sometimes for far less money). So look around your agency and embrace the idea of the feedback loop. Then go create better work.

Copyright 2013 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Categories:   Business and Strategy, Communication, Direct Response, DR Television, Innovation, Marketing Research, Media, Research & Attribution, Retail, TV & Video


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