My theory is that successful feedback comes down to 'saying no in an inspirational way.'
No one needs lessons in how to say yes. Saying yes is easy, and fun.
But most of the time - since 99% of ideas, ads, headlines etc are not bought - we are saying no.
The first requirement is clarity.
Years ago, I remember working for a really nice CD. Everything we presented, he liked. And the result was terrible. We came out of meetings not knowing if he'd bought anything. Sometimes, we needlessly carried on working (wasting time we could have spent working on other briefs) when he was already happy. Other times, we put our pens down, only to find out a few days later that he wasn't happy with anything, and we now had just 24 hours before the client meeting to crack a new idea.
So if it's a no - which most of the time it will be - make sure your 'no' is crystal clear.
Give the reason, e.g. work not on brief, wrong tone for the brand, or 'right' but just not that good.
The last of those is the hardest to deliver.
Humour can help. One of my old bosses, Jeremy Craigen at DDB London, was a noted rejectionist. "That's a good ad," he used to say. "For Ogilvy Bratislava, maybe." I guess what he was communicating was: "We have high standards here, and this work doesn't meet them. You need to start again completely. However, I still like you."
But as well as being clear, your 'no' should also be at least mildly inspirational.
You don't want a team walking away depressed, or not sure what to do next. Either of those is a disaster.
You want the team walking away feeling inspired.
So what inspires?
Mainly, a feeling that this brief could lead to great work. Often, a brief seems unpromising and the team can't see their way through to a good idea. So telling them about a good idea that was done on a similarly unpromising brief, perhaps in the same category, or to a similar proposition, can work well.
Another of my old bosses, Adam Kean at Saatchi & Saatchi, did it beautifully once. We showed him some rubbish ads, and he said nothing for a bit. Then he asked us: "Have you seen this?" and he played Tony Kaye's latest TV ad, which we hadn't yet seen. Nothing further needed to be added. His message was: "Advertising at its best can be great. We all want to reach that standard, don't we? Please try again."
But of course, as well as setting the bar, you should be giving the team a steer on how to jump over it. Whether you're a CD, a planner, an account handler or a client, you can't consider that your job is to keep saying no to bad ideas until you're shown a good one. Advertising is a difficult, iterative process that requires constant constructive feedback. That means you must always have suggestions to add. If you don't, how can you justify drawing a salary?
Just make sure (obviously) that the suggestions are good ones! Good means clear, and presented as a challenge for the team to answer in their own way, not an 'answer' for them to execute the way you've told them to.
Anyway, I'm giving a talk next week on 'how to give feedback', and as you can see, what I've got so far is pretty flimsy, so do please help me out and let me know in the comments section any examples of feedback you've experienced done well or done badly.