6 tips for nailing the presentation of creative concepts

Creative work can be subjective—but these steps can help win over the skeptics when presenting your next big idea.

Flash back to fourth grade math. Perhaps it’s not your fondest memory—but you may recall that your teacher wasn’t only interested in the right answer. She or he wanted to see your work.

Similarly, presenting creative concepts to clients is about more than offering solutions. It’s about taking them on a collaborative journey—one that builds trust and demonstrates the passion you have for their success. And unlike the tests you may have taken as a fourth grader, there are likely many “correct” answers to any given creative request, making it absolutely vital that the client not only understand the “what,” but the “why” behind them.

Think about it. If you are a client laying a chunk of your marketing budget on the line for a creative idea, you want to know the rationale behind it. You want to have the work you’re paying for presented in a thoughtful way that draws a distinct line from the art and copy to the problem you’re trying to solve. And you appreciate the opportunity to reciprocate with time-saving, constructive feedback that derives from understanding exactly where your creative team is coming from.

The brainstorming process doesn’t always follow a linear path, which makes it tough to explain to a client why certain leaps were taken. But if you can articulate ideas to your client in a way that makes it about them, it will energize them about the future of their brand with you as their partner.

And it will increase the possibility of collaborating on better, bolder, more breakthrough ideas—ideas that contribute to their bottom line.

With that in mind, here are a few tips when presenting your ideas to connect your creativity with both your clients and their goals:

1. Begin by reintroducing the brief.

A good creative brief doesn’t just supply information. It sets direction and articulates what information is most important and emotionally engaging to a targeted audience. Different samples of creative briefs are one quick Google search away. The best typically ask:

  • Who is in the target audience?
  • What is the one singular compelling message to be communicated about a product or service?
  • And what should the target audience think, feel and/or do?

The more narrowly defined and specific each of the answers are, the more meaningful and personally engaging the resulting creative work will be.

Succinctly answering the brief’s questions is a collaborative exercise that involves clients and requires their sign-off before creative work begins. A collaboratively constructed brief provides crucial information for developing creative work, makes the client part of the process, and ultimately becomes the standard against which the creative is judged by the agency and client team.

In fact, presenting creative work should always begin with reintroducing the approved brief to remind the client of the challenge everyone set out together to meet.

2. Face-to-face is best.

Great creative work speaks for itself—so simply emailing a pdf or electronic deck of the creative concepts is more efficient and cost-effective, right? Wrong.

While great creative ultimately will speak for itself to its intended audience, presenting creative rather than “mailing it in” is essential. The presentation puts the creative concept, its target audience and emotional power in context. Taking the time to present it also honors the thoughtful and extensive work that’s been done.

If the creative is important, presenting it face-to-face is equally important. Even if the work is time critical and/or the client is hard to schedule, it’s worth meeting and presenting the work either in person or virtually in order to walk through the journey from the creative brief to its manifestation. Also, working collaboratively with a client requires trust and transparency; presenting creative concepts in person or, at minimum, virtually helps build that trust and reinforces your agency’s transparency.

3. Control the focus.

Whether you’re presenting new company names, logos, campaigns or single ads, control the focus by showing each execution one at a time rather than multiples together. Grab and retain your clients’ attention by unveiling each proposed name, logo or ad one by one.

Also, avoid personal branding or advertisements, even if your marketing team wants every slide or board to feature the agency’s logo. Instead, ditch the logo and branded template, filling slides with the creative and nothing but the creative. If you’re in person, arrange for the creative to be physically rendered on boards so the client can handle and pass it around—another way to generate engagement and retain everyone’s focus.

4. Present choices.

It’s more work for the creative team, but presenting several solutions to the client’s challenge makes for a truly collaborative experience in which the client has the opportunity to become invested in the ultimate outcome. It also showcases the breadth of your team’s creative range.

Present two or three solutions to every challenge. Often, at least one of these will explore a client’s preference. Also, showing a surprising solution that pushes the creative concept for maximum impact and emotional engagement is recommended. While often rejected, the edgy option serves a purpose: It offers an opportunity to discuss with the client what a breakthrough creative experience looks and feels like.

Finally, come prepared to explain what you have determined, based on your expertise, to be the best solution among the choices, but be sure you’re comfortable with all of your options—even your least favorite. It might very well be the one your client lands on.

5. Make time to take time.

It takes time to concept and craft strong creative ideas, so honor your team’s effort by allowing for ample presentation time. Don’t squeeze a creative presentation at the end of a larger meeting when everyone is taxed and tired, and already looking at their phone to catch up on emails and messages.

Don’t rush it. Walk through the creative. Let your presentation breathe, giving you and your client time to think. If you’re presenting radio, broadcast, online audio or video, show the creative once, then pause and show it again. Let the client see and/or hear it at least twice in a row before any discussion.

Generally speaking, it’s best to wait until the end of a creative presentation before inviting questions and feedback. This avoids getting bogged down in a single execution and keeps the overall presentation energy upbeat and positive.

6. Stop presenting and listen.

When it comes to showing creative, listening is just as important as talking. It underscores the collaborative relationship you have with your client.

So, relax. Listen and don’t be threatened by questions or suggestions. Consider everything said as valuable input, and don’t hesitate to say you’d like to go away and think about the feedback before responding. Your response can take many forms, but give yourself a little time away from the presentation to ponder the input. Let the client know you’ll respond promptly, then either tweak the creative or find a better solution that incorporates their feedback. Either way, you’re letting the client know you’re always listening and ready to collaborate.



Sean Williams is a creative director in the integrated marketing department of FINN Partners. He leads a team of art directors and copywriters in the agency’s Nashville office. Learn more about their work here.



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