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Evaluating Creative

Last month I was interviewing for a senior marketing role with what I thought was a promising start-up.

My first interview with the hiring manager had gone exceptionally well; we seemed to have an instant rapport, and it was clear we had mutual respect for one another's backgrounds.

My second interview, with the company's "Head of People", was a different story.

The interview was going fine until she casually said, "I'd love to see some of the creative that you've led... after our call, can you send me a few links to some of your work?"

My spidey senses started to tingle.

Trying to be diplomatic, I replied, "Sure, I'd be happy to send you some links... but first, can you help me understand why you're asking? What are you looking to learn?"

She seemed confused with my push-back, but said, "Well, we're a cool, fun brand... and I'd like to see if you've created any cool, fun ads."

Yellow flag.

And so I replied honestly, "I'm happy to send you some links. But for each piece of creative, I'm also going to send you the context behind the creative -- such as the target audience for the brand, and what we were hoping to achieve with the work -- and then the results of our efforts. Because Marketing 101 is that it doesn't matter whether you like an ad... it matters whether the target audience likes it and whether it does what it's supposed to do. I can send you something I created for an 18-25 year-old energy drinking male, but you're probably going to hate it... and that's okay because if you loved it, it probably wouldn't have worked. If you're not the target, you don't have to love it. You see what I mean?"

At this point, the Head of People clearly realized why I had resisted her initial ask. She said, "I understand, and the added context would be great. Thank you."

And then, sensing my defensiveness, almost apologetically said, "I'm not trying to evaluate your creativity, you know? I just want to see if you've worked on anything cool, because 'cool' or 'fun' wouldn't be written down anywhere with the business objectives, right?"

Red flag.

As any creative agency person will confirm, if the brand's personality was 'cool' or 'fun', that positioning would absolutely be in the creative brief. And I told her as much, even knowing that doing so wasn't going to win me any interview points with her.

I was okay with that.

Every so often, my students will ask me for advice on how to perform in marketing interviews. I tell them I'm the wrong person to ask about this because I decided a long time ago I'd never, ever "fake" my way through an interview. I've been on enough interviews in my career to date to know what interviewers want to hear, and I could absolutely say all of the "right things" that would show how conformist I could be. But if you wear a mask during an interview, you have to wear that mask every day if you're hired. And after a while, masks can become suffocating. So instead, I choose a "what you see is what you get" approach, and look for organizations who like me for who I am... which includes my willingness to speak up when I disagree. That approach has worked pretty well for me in my career so far, by the way.

But there is one piece of advice I've given my students about creative interviews, and it goes like this:

"If an interviewer ever shows you a piece of creative and asks, 'do you think this is a good ad', that's a trick question. There's only one correct answer to that trick question, and it's, 'Well, I'm not sure yet... can I see the creative brief?"

You don't evaluate creative work on whether you like it or not. If you're not the target audience, you can absolutely hate it... and it can still be a fantastic, effective piece of work.

You evaluate creative work based on how well it delivers on the creative brief. Full stop.

Any marketer worth their salary will already know this.

And any non-marketer who doesn't already know this definitely shouldn't be asking marketers for creative samples.


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