If there’s one aspect of copywriting that almost always comes as a shock to the new practitioner, it’s creative reviews. Sure, it sounds simple: A meeting in which people get together to discuss work. But what actually happens—and how it can be perceived by writers—is a bit different. Read on for a few tips about how to survive and thrive in creative reviews.
What is a Creative Review?
A creative review is essentially a meeting designed to present your work to project stakeholders, discuss it, and leave with clear next steps on refining the project to be the best possible version it can be. Sometimes it’s just you and your client. Sometimes it’s you, your design partner, a marketing manager, project manager, and others involved in the project.
You review the creative brief, so every one is on the same page and reminded of the project goals. Then you share your work.
Every writer who’s sent any of their work out into the world is used to being edited. You’ve written it one way, but an editor has a few suggestions for you to make it better. Fine. Great, even. Copywriting is no different, except that you don’t have one editor, you have a boss and several stakeholders. And they all have opinions. And you have to incorporate all of them.
So, your job is to make sure you understand all the feedback, talk through any conflicting stakeholder feedback, and feel clear on your next steps for delivering round two of copy.
(There is, of course, a bit more nuance, which is why Comprehensive Copywriting Academy students have an entire course on creative reviews, including scripts for what to say in these meetings! You’ll find it in the “Land Work” section of the dashboard in the Nail Your Client Calls bonus course.)
Before the Creative Review: Come Prepared
Creative reviews strike fear into the hearts of many copywriters. It’s not always the most comfortable thing to present your work to a roomful of people. But what if I told you there’s a secret to feeling much more sure and prepared?
It’s completely natural and normal to be intimidated by reviews. After all, you agonize over a project only to present it and get feedback on it…live…and in public. And, of course, you can’t know what kind of feedback you get. (If you did, you’d have already incorporated it, right?)
But there’s one way to prepare yourself for whatever they throw at you. Ready for the secret? Simply, it’s to be prepared to explain every choice you made.
You need to be able to explain why you chose “and” instead of “but,” why you put a detail in the subhead instead of the head, why your body copy starts with a question… All of that. Everything.
But that’s not all that difficult! After all, every element of your copy is deliberate. You put thought and strategy into every word, word combination, and punctuation choice.
This strategy and these deliberate choices are part of what make you a good copywriter; there’s nothing haphazard or random or unplanned in your copy.
You have a reason for every choice you made. So, be prepared to explain each one.
You Need a Creative Brief
If this project didn’t start with a creative brief, that’s going to be the number one reason why the feedback goes off the rails and your creative review feels extra brutal. Set yourself up for success for each and every project by starting with a kickoff meeting and a creative brief. Come prepared with all your questions and you’ll likely find your copy is a lot closer to the mark in your first creative review.
During the Review: Expect Collaboration
By its nature, copywriting is a very collaborative career. You’ll create the best work you can from the information that’s been given to you, and then the other people involved in the project, perhaps the brand manager or the product manager or any number of other people, will give you feedback based on their personal expertise and insight.
In a way, creative reviews can be challenging because all of these people are giving you all of this feedback at once. You’ve gone into a meeting in which perhaps a half dozen people are discussing the positives and negatives of your work. This can shake a lot of new writers.
But, despite what many copywriters think, a creative review isn’t a meeting to show your final work. Yes, it should absolutely be your best foot forward and a complete piece.
But it’s also a work in progress.
All of the people in that review have different insights into the project, and it’s insight that you need to make as effective as it could possibly be. It’s also insight that you might not have access to before the review. That means that when people offer their thoughts and feedback, it’s up to you to take that back to your desk and incorporate it into the piece.
Creative reviews are for coming together to refine a piece using the insight and intelligence of all of the key stakeholders.
During and After the Review: Keep Feedback on Course
Creative reviews are also terrific because you get this feedback all at once. There’s no getting feedback from one person only to get feedback from another person a few days later and then more feedback from another person a few days later still. It all comes out in one meeting.
But that can be intimidating! You need to adopt this mantra in all creative reviews: the comments being made are about the work, not about me and my copywriting abilities. You are not your work. Do your best not to take things personally. No one wants to work with someone who falls to pieces or gets angry and defensive about their work.
Stakeholders will throw out a lot of opinions during a creative review. But you need to be sure you leave with the information you need to execute the next iteration. Are two people making contradictory suggestions? Be sure you know which one is the right one to go on before you leave.
If stakeholders need to review copy after the meeting, make sure you set a deadline for receiving feedback so you can get working on your next version. You can’t begin your next draft without all feedback.
Create a Dialogue Around Your Copy
When someone in the review asks you why you made a certain word or phrase choice, or even why you chose to use a headline and no sub headline, you already know you need to be able to explain what you did and why.
Now, your explanation might not be enough to end the discussion, but it creates a dialogue. Explaining why you made the choices you did demonstrates both your skills and professionalism. It shows that you put a great deal of thought into your work. And it also allows you to talk with people in the room as equals and collaborators.
A creative review isn’t a firing squad; it’s a committee of people getting together to help create a piece. Being prepared to explain the work you’ve done in any detail necessary just establishes you as an important and respected part of that collaboration.
Being prepared to discuss your work gives you the certainty to answer any questions or concerns and that automatically gives you much more confidence as you go into each meeting.
Don’t Leave Without Consolidated Feedback
The one thing you need to ensure is that you’re leaving the creative review with clear, consolidated feedback from all stakeholders. Where projects go off the rails—and where multiple creative reviews can be a red flag—is when you leave the review not knowing what you need to do to deliver the next round of copy.
If you’re feeling unclear, chances are others may be feeling unclear, too. So, speak up! This will position yourself as a leader on the project, ensuring everyone is leaving the room feeling clear on what you are expected to deliver the next round.
Ideally, the project manager (or whatever the title of the person who is running the meeting and responsible for eventually approving the creative) will type up a list of all the feedback and circulate it. If not, though, you have to do it. Ensuring everyone is on the same page will save you extra rounds of revisions and the frustration of everyone in a room remembering a past conversation differently.
Creative reviews are also a great opportunity to learn. Listen carefully to the feedback that’s being given—there’s a good chance you can incorporate that input into future designs. Listen, too, for technical terms and specifications or discussions about how creative will be evaluated and tested. This is always good knowledge to have in your back pocket. If you know all about copywriting, you’ll do well. If you know all about copywriting and the business around it, you’ll do even better.
After the Review: Schedule Another Review As Needed
Easily the greatest myth about creatives reviews is that they’re going to be “one and done.”
Know this: the vast, vast majority of the time, your copywriting will not be perfect and will not be approved in the first creative review. And that’s fine! That’s the expectation. It doesn’t mean that you’ve done anything wrong and it’s not a product of whatever level of experience you have, it’s simply because the other people in the room will have insight and expertise to offer that you don’t have.
You always want to go into a creative review having done your very best, but it’s much more than likely that it’s not yet perfect.
Don’t be afraid to schedule another review. Often, it’s easier to quickly chat through changes and review them together versus emailing it to your client and then getting sucked into a back-and-forth of 20 emails.
Your turn! How do you get through creative reviews? What’s challenging for you? Or what do you love? Let us know in the comments below!
Last Updated on July 1, 2023