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The secret ROI of giving positive feedback in public

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It’s one thing to have an ad you’re proud of writing see the light of day, essentially unedited.

It’s another to have the client publicly thank you for it.

This week, I got to have both things.

I immediately called the team over to see it for themselves. The ‘team’ being the ones who actually helped me get the work out, ensured it had no typos, made the publisher’s deadline, that we got paid for it, etc etc. Y’know, the real work.

Everyone gathered around the monitor, basking in the glow of an appreciative client comment, posted on a popular industry forum. We started talking about the next project we have in the pipeline with them and the ways it could be improved. We started throwing around ideas for what else they might need* in their campaign and how we might make a quick prototype to explore it. Someone suggested we take a screenshot and share the comment with the production partners involved in the work. It was, as they say, Good Times.

Then I realised, it was also the start of continued Good Times for our client. Why? Because there are some remarkable things that often happen when you tell your creative people that their work is good and you like working with them:

  1. Better work – we’re going to take that compliment, bask in it for a moment, and then double down to see if we can outdo ourselves with something even better. We might not even need a brief to get started. We might even get proactive**.
  2. Better people – we’ll think about sharing your brief around with the best people we know, either inside the agency (by putting the hungriest, most talented or most in-form team on it), or in our orbit (a partner, freelancer, collaborators or consultant) in order to make the next tranche of work public-thanks-worthy.
  3. Cheaper work – I can’t guarantee this one (maybe Better Value Work is more accurate), but the chances that you’ll be able to ask for a change, to see a different approach, or explore another option, without automatically getting hit with a perfectly reasonable and contractually-covered variation cost or out-of-scope fee, are significantly higher if you’ve got a track record of being nice. YMMV on this one.
  4. More flexibility – we’re also more likely to go into bat on your behalf with a printer who wants to go home instead of waiting for the updated file, a publisher who wants to on-sell your tentatively-held media space, or a production company who wants to give away your preferred shoot date. We become repeater-stations for your words of appreciation, multiplying their effect.

It’s so easy to do, costs so little and capable of delivering such obvious performance enhancement, I wonder why more clients aren’t nicer more often – even the cynical ones just looking for ways drive their creative people harder.

However, before you rub your hands in glee and start cranking out the ‘thanks’ and ‘nice work, great job!’ emails in the hope of procuring better work for less, make sure your day-to-day behaviour also passes the ‘nice’ test.

All the positive feedback in the world, no matter how heartfelt, will be automatically zeroed out by the following:

  1. Changing the brief after the work’s been done, then pointing out the work is wrong
  2. Constantly pitching your projects out
  3. Failing to pay (on time, or at all)

Whether you’re a client working with an agency, an agency with production partners, a CD leading teams, or a freelancer strangling a pencil, next time that creative partner of yours delivers the goods, take a moment to tell them. Not only is it a good investment, it’s nice.

*not the same as ‘what else we could make for them’

**not the same as free


This blog post was originally published on our partner site, Firebrand.

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