Admit it: You live for approval.
As a creative pro, you’re not making art for art’s sake most of the time. Your work has a goal. A defined audience. A budget. And then there are the approvers—all the people who have to bless it (and often, request changes to it) before it can see the light of day.
In a perfect world, you’d have only one approver to please. One who trusted you implicitly and who always responded to your work with a cascade of compliments.
It’s not a perfect world.
When it comes to approvers, the more, the messier.
The more reviewers you have, the greater the chances that one of them will be the problematic kind. You know who I’m talking about: those people with arbitrary preferences (“I’ve never cared for the color orange”) or bewildering opinions (“I showed it to my ex-wife, and she thinks you should use a picture of a bird”). Those people who make you bite your tongue. Hard.
Also, when there are multiple players, there is a greater likelihood of some sort of power dynamic. If one of the reviewers has more seniority, the others are likely to accommodate that person’s whims, however silly they may be.
Multiple reviewers might have different tastes. Different agendas. They might be in different offices or even different time zones. The more people, the more hurdles you face.
What’s a creative pro to do?
Give your work a fighting chance: Write out a solid rationale.
You know your work is good. You were intentional about every color and line break and pixel. Now you just need to share your intentions with your approvers.
By explaining your creative solution in clear, compelling writing, you can help your reviewers to:
- Trust you
- Understand each of your creative decisions and their benefits
- Approve your work more easily
- Advocate for your work with other approvers (This is important!)
Four steps to pitching your work in writing
1) First, demonstrate your understanding of the strategic challenge.
Yes, all of the players should know this. It’s probably plastered all over the brief. But go ahead—spell it out. You want to begin by assuring everyone that you know what needs doing. You might write something like:
The challenge: We need an annual report that will make shareholders feel confident about our company’s future without leading them to believe we’re wasting money on printing our annual report.*
*Based on a true story.
The challenge: We need to demonstrate to male dog owners that dressing their pet in Preppy Poochie outfits will make them (the owners) more attractive to women.
2) Articulate your particular creative objectives.
Now, spell out specifically what you believe your creative work needs to (and reasonably can) accomplish. This might look something like:
The creative goal: We† wanted to make sure that anyone who sees this poster immediately understands there will be greased-pig wrestling and an extreme pogo expo on July 13. We wanted to grab attention and convey a sense of outlandish, Instagrammable fun.
†Unless you are a self-declared lone wolf with zero creative collaborators, always use the word “we” rather than “I.” It will imply unity of creative opinion, and maybe even hint to the reviewers that they are outnumbered. (Bwa-ha-ha!)
3) Break down how your creative work achieves its goals.
This is where the magic happens. Demonstrate that you gave thought to every aspect of your design. Show that you did not do anything on a whim, but that every decision you made serves a strategic purpose. Following are three unrelated examples to give you a sense of what you might write.
To convey a confident attitude, we used an abundance of white space‡ around a short, simple headline. As they say, if you want to get someone’s attention, whisper.
To reinforce the idea that we’re a company that cares about the environment, we chose a palette that is predominantly green. The illustration style feels natural and a little imperfect—the opposite of corporate coldness.
Almost every cookbook features food or cooking ingredients on the cover. To stand out from the crowd, we instead hand-wrote text on a lined recipe card (complete with subtle food stains) and listed the book’s features as if they were ingredients.
‡When it comes to advertising, it’s a good idea to explain your use of white space. Many a client will want to cram every available inch with snipes and starbursts and other clutter. Tell them why they shouldn’t.
4) List any additional advantages to your creative solution.
Make a subheading like “Bonus Benefits” and list every positive feature you can think of.
- Is it an idea that “has legs” and can work in a multitude of media? Say that. Explain why “having legs” is good—consistency of message, ease of future communications, even cost savings.
- Is it distinctive when compared to the competition? Say so.
- Is it buzzworthy? Would it work well on T-shirts? Is it a timeless design that could work for many years? Write it all down.
- Does your solution offer any type of production benefits? One-color printing? Eco-friendly substrate? Is it inexpensive to mail? Or easy to test? Let your clients know that.
Now that you know what to write, here’s how you should write it.
Your clients are busy, so make your writing quick and clear. And keep in mind that you are making a presentation, only in writing. Like in a live presentation, you need to be persuasive and polished.
- Use bullets. They’re essentially delicious little spoonfuls of information that go down easy.
- Bold the important bits. See what I’m doing here? It makes the copy easy to scan. It also makes it easy to revisit particular parts.
- Stay parallel. See how I’ve begun each of these bullets with an imperative verb? Each one tells you what to do: Use. Bold. Stay. Keep. Hunt. Proofread. Because my bullets all take the same structural approach, they are parallel, and therefore easier to read. Your bullets could all be adjectives if you wanted. For example, you might enumerate benefits: Inexpensive. Easy. Nostalgic. Exciting. Consistency is the key.
- Keep it direct. Short. Simple. Make your sentences pack a punch. Use the active voice (“We turned a small budget into a powerful idea”) rather than the passive voice (“This powerful idea was created by us with a small budget”).
- Hunt down redundancy and kill it. (No need to “kill it dead.”) As you read over your writing, always be on the lookout for places where you say something more than once. Constantly ask yourself, “Is this word really necessary or helpful?” If the answer is “no,” say buh-bye.
- Proofread. You may think it’s not that important if you have a typo or two. You’re not a professional writer, after all, and this rationale isn’t going to be published. But trust me: It matters. Every time you write “your” instead of “you’re,” every time you write “there” instead of “their,” your credibility scoots down a little bit. Show your clients that you’re buttoned-up and that you care about details. Consider using Grammarly and/or having a trusted colleague read over what you’ve written. It’s difficult to see your own mistakes.
Designing is hard work. But not as hard as seeing your design get misunderstood, underappreciated, and mangled by multiple rounds of ridiculous revisions. By taking the time and effort to properly introduce and explain your creative work in clear, logical writing, you can increase the likelihood of a smooth approval and the fabulous gratification it brings.