After an entire agency has researched, analysed, pondered, deliberated and passionately debated your brand's specific marketing needs, talented creative minds will toil determinedly to create an original, motivating idea, like miners bringing a rare and beautiful stone from the darkness - and they will present it to you as though parading their own child.
Critically assessing the treasure they have unearthed is a privilege - but also a great responsibility. Great respect must be paid to the effort that has gone into its creation - and I find the following set of criteria help me thoughtfully determine whether the work is right or wrong.
Does it have colours you like?
Does the work you are being shown contain your favourite colour? This is important. You can never truly love work that isn't the right colour. Don't worry about upsetting the creatives - they can just change colours. I mean, what do they care? So what if it's blue or red or green or orange? I can assure you that it is no skin off their nose. Just make sure your favourite colour is in there. And if not your favourite colour, the favourite colour of your spouse / friend / less-qualified colleague.
Is it 'zingy'?
Zingyness is almost impossible to define. Zingyness, like the wind, is gone the moment you try to pin it down. So don't try. Does the work make you feel a bit, you know, sort of somethingy? All, like, woooh? Or not? If not, it isn't zingy. Creatives understand this term - I use it all the time. I say, 'It's just not...you know...zingy. Can you make it a bit more zingy?' And off they trot to up the zingyness. Of course, as you can't ever define zingyness, they may not make it more zingy when they try. They may actually make it less zingy. In which case, return them to the drawing board with the phrase 'I'll know it when I see it'. This is widely understood and respected by creatives.
Is the logo big enough?
The answer is always no. Make them increase its size until it can no longer be obscured by a fist.
Is the product name in the headline?
The answer is always no. Make them put it in. Somehow, anyhow. It is proven that putting the product name in the headline will increase sales by 17%*.
Does your target audience like it?
My mother is always the guinea pig in my litmus paper acid tests. She's nearly target audience and has strong opinions, which is important. The last thing you want is a 'don't know'. You don't want to go solely on your own judgement. It doesn't look good if things go wrong. My mother can always be trusted to offer sage advice like 'The girl has eyes like a butcher's step-child', 'The words are all very unladylike' and 'The red looks like the lipstick on that whore your father ran off with'. It's all valuable insight, because these are things most people would never consider. How would you feel if your ad went to the public before you'd noticed whorish colours?
Find yourself a trusted, opinionated sounding board from your target audience (or someone close enough) - and always trust their judgement, no matter what.
Treat these insights as a check-list when you judge the work from your agency. And remember - be confident. Your agency may be full of Oxbridge graduates and people who write widely acclaimed research papers, but remember what you bring to the party.
You're a graduate from somewhere like Keele or Derby, you got a 2:2 in Marketing (never mind the fact that you probably should have taken Business or Law, but you didn't quite get the A level grades, but, hey, Marketing isn't so bad, right?), you read most of The Tipping Point last year (most of the unboring bits, anyway), you have the word 'Manager' in your title and you know what you like, even if you don't know much about the product your company makes because you haven't been on the induction course and, well, it's soooo confusing and a bit geeky and you're more of a, like, creative person.
Don't be intimidated by all that carefully-considered creative work from award-winning agencies. It's your job to tell them what to do, not the other way round!
Why? Because YOU ARE THE CLIENT!
* Figures from The Knockles Index, my own qualitative research into ad effectiveness using interviews with my mother, Fat Yousef and Brian Danks.