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How to present your creative work

Once upon a time, copywriters and creative directors would present their work in person. I know that concept sounds quaint, but it provided an element of control and stage management which is impossible when you simply click “send” in your Outlook. Here’s how to get it back.

1. Insist on a live meeting to “discuss” your work when it is ready for client review. Nowadays this will be via conference call, very occasionally with a visual hookup. Send over the files beforehand—to avoid technical problems from slow downloads and spam filters—but ask reviewers not to open them till the meeting.

2. In your live meeting, start by recapping the creative assignment. Often you will simply repeat elements of the creative brief which is fine because nobody but you has looked at it in some time. This sets the stage and lets people know they are about to see a product they have already “approved” because it is what they asked for.

3. Tell them what they’re going to see. Rough heads? Concept copy? Thumbnails? You can go as deep or as shallow as you like but the key thing is that everybody needs to understand what they are looking at, and what is not yet available because you haven’t created it.

4. Present the work. Presumably you have at least 3 concepts. NEVER lead with your best concept because some folks are still getting up to speed or are distracted. If one of the concepts is considerably worse than the others (maybe because it’s what the client asked for) don’t lead with that either. So inevitably the first concept is the middle-of-the-road option. After that I would gauge the reaction. If they’re really with you present your best idea next. If they are still getting up to speed present your worst now so it can be rejected. This sounds like a complicated formula but when you’re in the moment it is almost automatic.

5. Ask for feedback–but keep it brief and controlled. Get a couple of comments—it doesn’t really matter if they are minor or major—and answer them in such a level of detail that the client believes you really have thought through every possibility (you have, right?) and to keep on drilling you will keep everybody here all night.

6. Close out the meeting by describing a process by which reviewers will now go off and consider the material according to the schedule and the creative brief. If you’ve properly laid the groundwork, nobody will feel like they are entitled to come up with big objections or wild what-ifs at this point. They had plenty of chance to respond at the meeting, and to raise objections after the fact makes them look bad in front of their peers. (Of course, sometimes the “main” client doesn’t show up for the meeting and plans to answer after the fact; if this is the case with your meeting you have the choice of rescheduling the meeting [and probably getting a second no-show] or keeping your fingers crossed and hoping for the best.)

7. Go in the bathroom and throw up. Just kidding! But one of my early agency employers actually did this after every client review. I think he was insecure as to whether the work truly was any good and presented on adrenalin (and probably other mood enhancers) which ultimately did him in. If you do a good job to begin with, and know your stuff, you will experience a sense of accomplishment, not nausea.


  1. If every creative work presenter (but we’ll settle for copywriters) used this check off list, there would be a lot more happier copywriters and clients in the world. Red Pen Syndrome, that horrible thing that happens when clients first receive your copy in a Word doc form and involuntarily reach for a red pen which was lodged in their ear as a way to calm the left side of their brain, has done more to damage the motivation between copywriter and client than can be imagined. In addition to this fabulous list, I also pick up the phone and just start reading the copy to the client — it works and heck, it sounds obnoxious, but truth is, copy in the world today we make assumptions that everything has to be planned and what do people really want? TO BE DAZZLED…so, I get them on the phone and read the good stuff like a well paid narrator on a high-budget documentary. I pretend I’m Martin Sheen, Lindsay Wagner and James Earl Jones…it works. Try it. Just don’t ask for their permission. Great suggestions, btw! The above is a great list!

    Wednesday, July 27, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Permalink
  2. Otis Maxwell wrote:

    Thank you Joseph for the great additions on this topic! Also check out my post on “How to read a copywriter’s work” which includes my own take on the red pencil problem.

    Wednesday, July 27, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

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