Feedback that Pays Back

jack russell boss or business dog listening with one ear very carefully

I recently received an email from a client that gave me cause to smile.

Heidi Nortonsmith, executive director of the Northampton Survival Center, had requested my help in searching for photos the center could use on its website to help support the value placed on fresh foods. I wasn’t working on the website myself, but I’d introduced some similar photos recently back in one of their newsletters, hence her reach-out to me.

I sent Heidi 25 photo options for her review. She responded with a comprehensive email that not only directed me on which images to purchase in the moment but also guided me for the long term on which specific shots resonated for her, which did not, and the reasons for each yea or nay.

She steered me away from a Swiss cheese photo, for instance, and noted, “In the future, a cheese picture could be nice, but this looked a little too wine-and-cheese party-ish.”

Thank you, Heidi! Providing me with that level of thinking equipped me to understand the center’s mission better, and helped me to bring more to the table on our next project.

I appreciate this input tremendously, especially in comparison to what happens all too often in my field. Here’s an example of that scenario:

I spend many hours developing a set of purposeful design ideas—drawing on my skill and experience, and putting careful thought into them. What I could get in response is “Go with option three, but change the photo” or “Second one, please.”

While this brief feedback makes efficient use of clients’ time and gets the job done, it short-changes the potential pluses of what we can accomplish together. It’s not that I need stroking from clients or any kind of atta-boy. What disheartens me about these interactions is that they do not allow me to gain additional perspective on how my work supports their goals. This, in turn, means, that going forward, I cannot help take a client to the next level.

When clients take the time to offer their thoughts and opinions on my work—the whys behind their choices—that educates me. It also sends a signal that they’re investing in me, that we’re building a relationship, that we are partners in the work together.

I raise the point because it’s a useful message for any leader who frequently works with creatives who are not on the staff team. Err on the side of too much information, I say. Send the message that you’re not just getting a job done and moving on to the next one; show instead that your investment level in the mission is high.

Linda Edwards, the marketing director at Glenmeadow, a life plan community in Longmeadow, is a longstanding client who is consistently clear and purposeful in her feedback to me. Linda and I might have conversations at length about the message a particular photo sends or on her preferences for word choice.

Once a week, Linda and I have a regular phone meeting so that I am continually engaged and connected in the Glenmeadow organization. I am a true partner, and that relationship allows me to offer the nonprofit my very best insights, suggestions, and creative.

I am so appreciative that Linda and Heidi continually provide me with meaningful feedback through the lens of their organizations’ priorities. My work for them is informed. What’s in it for them is they get more out of me, in easier order.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that these days, I don’t have any “Let’s go with number two” clients. I recognize the win-win in communications-based relationships—and seek them out. In fact, this style of work relationship pretty much defines my entire professional world, and it’s one that aligns perfectly with The Creative’s philosophy. Janice and Ruth are of the same mind, making our combined work all the more powerful for clients.

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