In my 25 years of presenting creative ideas to clients, I have come across many methods of evaluation – some intuitive, some analytical, and some downright goofy. For example, one of my clients used to judge the power of an idea by how many layouts we brought. A foot-high stack of ads mounted on foam core boards was generally the mark of a good idea. We no longer speak of that client.

But I digress. My point is, I’m always on the lookout for methods to more effectively judge the power of an idea. More on that in this video:

The smart / different 2×2

Graham Robertson is a great brand consultant. And he’s prolific – follow him on Linkedin, and you’ll be rewarded with a steady stream of fresh marketing thinking.

The other day, I saw a tool he had generated for evaluating creative – an interesting take on the old trusty 2×2 chart.

evaluating creative ideas_Marc Stoiber brand strategy

I love this tool because it enables you to answer the two most important questions in creative work –

  1. Is it creative (well, duh) and,
  2. Is it on strategy…

…and put them into a form where you can easily and logically evaluate strategy / creative as two halves of a whole.

This tool is a great start, but I believe it still leaves a bit of a gap. That is, what is creative? Strategy I have no problem assessing – if a piece of communication drives me toward the goal it was intended to, it’s strategically on the mark.

But creative is a term so broad you can drive a truck full of elephants through it. There’s no way to get a handle on that term.

Or is there?

Learnings from peer review

Creative is an emotional thing. If you’ve seen Dead Poets Society, you probably recall the scene where Robin Williams shows the insanity of an ‘objective’ formula for evaluating great poetry.

Marc Stoiber Brand Strategy

That isn’t to say you can’t distinguish great creative from so-so work. If creativity is innately emotional and subjective, you simply need to invite emotional, subjective beings by to take a look and weigh in. Aka humans.

At Palmer Jarvis Advertising, we created a simple, powerful way for doing just that. If you were creating concepts to advertise a product, you were required to draft up your ideas as simple felt pen on scrap paper drawings. The byword was 20 great, different ideas before moving to the next step.

Next, you’d invite in colleagues from the creative department, one by one. Each person had the opportunity to assess which idea stopped them in their tracks and elicited an emotional reaction. Each person got to dot their favourite idea on the back of the paper, making it impossible for others to see which idea was garnering dots.

Next, you’d invite in colleagues from the account service floor. Ostensibly, they were there to see which ideas nailed the brief (and were therefore on strategy). But the real reason was to assess their emotional reaction.

Finally, you’d invite in the janitor, the snack supplier, any poor soul who happened to be wandering the halls.

In the end, you would have a very good idea which concept stood above as creative – as evaluated by a broad swath of people from fairly different walks of life.

Following this process, it was wonderful to walk into client meetings with your scraps of paper, lay them all out on the table, and start ‘killing’ them one after another – often to the horrified reaction of the client – until only the strongest idea was left. As each losing idea was crumpled and thrown away, you could tell the client exactly why your colleagues had found it creatively lacking. In the end, you had a compelling argument for the power of your creative solution. It wasn’t mathematical, but it worked.

It ain’t over

I’m always happy to hear from people who have developed their own tools for evaluating creative ideas. No doubt there are countless ways to get thousands of eyeballs on your ideas using social media. If you have a great one, please share. Anyone with a sincere interest in developing their creative chops will thank you.

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