Working with Creatives

Working with Creatives red marker

Your reaction to marketing proposals can make the ideas better, or worse.

By Charlie Hopper

Are you in charge? Are you the decider? Do you stop the buck?

Then be careful. While a typical butterfly’s wing flap might eventually have the effect of creating a storm over the Pacific, you’re different. You’re a butterfly the size of an ape. Your wing flaps can blow around everything for miles around.

Nobody says you shouldn’t have opinions. Of course you should. That’s how teamwork works. Still, you might be throwing things off.

Here are few tips that may coax better work from the people who help you with your marketing.

1. Articulate a problem for the team to solve.

Don’t prescribe a solution. Have them work on a way to address your concern.

MAYBE DON’T SAY: “Move the jalapeño poppers in front of the onion tower so people can see the texture.”

TRY SAYING: “I think it’s important to see the texture of the jalapeño poppers, but right now you can’t.”

BECAUSE: There may be more than one way to communicate the texture of the poppers – your team might hit on an even better one. Just telling them what to do closes off possibilities, and changing one little part often destroys the whole thing.

2. Tie your comments to agreed-upon goal of the work.

Want to win the argument before the argument exists? Base your comments on the creative brief.

MAYBE DON’T SAY: “I don’t like blue.”

TRY SAYING: “We talked about this being a Valentine’s Day promotion. Explain why you chose blue.”

BECAUSE: There might be a reason. If there’s not, they’ll admit you have a point.

OH, ONE THING: If you really are just asserting your personal hatred of the color blue, just say so. People can appreciate sometimes it’s a whim—and it’s worse if you try to fake it.

3. Insist on a creative brief before you send people off to do work.

If you can’t try No. 2, above, because there’s nothing agreed upon, then from this day hence, write down your goals and expectations.

MAYBE DON’T SAY: “We’ll figure it out later.”

TRY SAYING: “Let’s agree now that it’s important to see the texture of the poppers. Yes?”

BECAUSE: If there’s confusion or disagreement, and you don’t resolve it before work begins, it will keep being a problem. You’ll run out of time and proceed with something both you and they – professionals, all of you – believe is wrong.

4. Don’t ask to see it “both ways” when you’re not satisfied with something.

Working with Creatives butterflyAsking for two workable solutions forces your team to be ambivalent. Ambivalence is not the path to the most effective work.

MAYBE DON’T SAY: “Well, just try it my way so I can see it. Bring in both and we can pick one.”

TRY SAYING: “In the end this isn’t working for me because the poppers are just too small, you can’t see the texture of the breading, and we said on the brief that our unique breading is the idea of the promotion.”

BECAUSE: Sending them back to the brief with your new input may help them preserve what they think is compelling about their idea and also accommodate your concerns. Otherwise you’re often stuck Frankensteining something monstrous together.

5. Narrow the box.

You probably think creative people like playing in the world of infinite possibilities. They don’t. They love puzzling through the best expression of a simple idea, with known boundaries.

MAYBE DON’T SAY: “It’s poppers! Just be creative!”

TRY SAYING: “Make sure the poppers are big enough to see the texture, include the price since it’s a deal, and make sure it has a Valentine’s Day feeling.”

BECAUSE: That still leaves open a million solutions but eliminates the “shot in the dark” approach. And if the team has concerns about, say, whether price is relevant on a billboard and creates a visual jumble, well, they can come to you with a coherent point of view.

6. If you’re not 100 percent sure, don’t “go around the table.”

Each of your people will be forced to agree either with you or the creative team, and may be tempted to invent a problem that doesn’t really exist: “Will people with asthma react negatively to the idea of smelling an aroma?” This round table approach rarely works like in King Arthur. That’s just a legend.

MAYBE DON’T SAY: “Hm. What do you think, [every single person sitting nearby]?”

TRY SAYING: “I don’t know. Let me give it some thought.”

BECAUSE: It’s all right if you need some time to think about what’s being proposed—especially if the work is unusual. So, go on and consult with someone you trust. Ultimately this is your choice, though.

7. If you do consult with someone, don’t ask if they like it.

Ask if they understand it.

MAYBE DON’T SAY: “Would you buy more jalapeño poppers if you saw this?”

TRY SAYING: “What is this saying to you?”

BECAUSE: Nobody can predict what they would or wouldn’t do. But they can tell you if they get what they’re looking at.

8. Be okay with feeling uncomfortable.

Marketing materials that feel familiar are less likely to work. It’s so hard to give customers an idea that they notice and remember. If the work 

is on brief, but not what you typically see in your category—that’s good.

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MAYBE DON’T SAY: “It’s just too ... different.”

TRY SAYING: “I’ve never seen anything like it, but it does fulfill everything we said it had to do.”

BECAUSE: Unlike the science of cooking and the business of controlling costs, persuading people is an art. New art always makes everyone a little uncomfortable, which is what makes it memorable. Memorable is good. You want memorable. As long as grows from the brief, then it’s a good thing you’re not comfortable with it.


In the end, creative people solve the problem you give them. And if the problem becomes keeping you in a good mood, or getting you to commit to something, then that’s what they solve for. Your reactions to the marketing can make it better, or make it even worse.


Charlie Hopper, principal/writer of ad agency Young & Laramore, shares views on restaurant marketing at, as well as in recently published books “Nuggets, Nibbles, Morsels, Crumbs: Selected Restaurant Marketing Columns from Food & Drink International,” and “Selling Eating: Restaurant Marketing Beyond the Word Delicious.” Hopper is known for his unique and witty perspective on food and restaurant brands and is a regular contributor to Food & Drink International.


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