Stop me if this sounds familiar… You’re sitting in a meeting, discussing your latest creative campaign with your marketing agency. You have some helpful feedback to share about the direction you’d like to take, only… you can’t get a word in edgewise.
Your account rep seems to loves the sound of their voice so much that they don’t notice you shifting uncomfortably in your chair. They don’t see you growing more and more frustrated as your input is ignored. And then, when you ultimately cancel your contract because you’re sick of feeling unacknowledged, they don’t even see it coming.
Why Listening is Critical in Creative Meetings
I’m a part of the creative industry. And this is going to sound harsh to say, but I really believe my fellow marketers, advertisers and other creatives have a long way to go when it comes to listening.
Let me give you an example one of our Windsorborn clients shared with me before coming on board. They’d been with a different agency before us, and they weren’t happy with the results. It wasn’t that the creatives weren’t strong. They were. It was that they were designed for the wrong audience – all because the agency just wouldn’t listen after months of the client telling them they had the targeting wrong.
The client served a fairly narrow niche. The agency kept pressing them to open up their targeting to a wider audience, but the result was that the creatives and messaging weren’t driving conversions from the right people. Something more tailored would have performed better (as we later proved together), but the agency was so set in their vision that they refused to listen to the input of those who knew their audience best.
How to Make Sure Ideas are Heard
That’s just one of the examples I’ve run into, though it was one of the most severe. Failure to listen can doom entire campaigns – like it did for our client. But it can also have a more insidious impact. Even campaigns that are running well could be underperforming if great ideas aren’t being listened to.
So how do you do it? How do you make sure you’re really listening? Keep the following tips in mind:
You can’t really say you’re listening unless you’re actively valuing the input of all parties – even ‘non-creatives.’ Start by making sure all relevant stakeholders have a seat at the table.
Once you have them there, recognise your impulse to speed through their feedback to get to yours. According to Licensed Therapist Vanessa Marin, “Often, when we think we’re listening, what we’re actually doing is planning our response. You can’t do both of those things at the same time. It just occupies too much brain space.”
Author Jim Smith shares an example of how this impulse led him to lose a prospective customer in an article for Forbes. “Throughout the meeting I was given plenty of clues as to how I should steer the conversation if I wanted the work, yet I kept right on talking, selling my services and preferred approach and not listening. When I didn’t get the job, I resisted the temptation to find a convenient excuse and instead asked the potential client. That call confirmed what I deep down already knew: I wasn’t listening.”
Go Beyond the Words
To get around your brain’s desire to prioritise its own input, practise listening to more than just the words others are saying. This is particularly important because what people say and what people mean are often two different things.
I’ve worked with plenty of clients who feel reluctant to share creative feedback. Often, it’s because they don’t have the language to express what they like and don’t like – it’s a ‘gut feel’ they don’t know how to communicate. They might tell me they like the work, but their body language – they shift and fidget in their seats, or they don’t make eye contact – tells a different story.
If all I was doing was listening to their words, I’d think I was doing a great job. But because I’ve learned to pay attention to other cues, I know when I need to invest more work coaxing out feedback so that everyone feels heard and happy with the eventual outcome.
Listening isn’t something that happens automatically. It’s a skill that comes from continual practice – from a continual questioning of assumptions. And it’s one that’s baked into how we do business at Windsorborn.