May 10/17
By Kerri Benecke

Dear Kerri

Dear Kerri: My CEO is a visionary leader, but also a heavily opinionated one. What’s the most effective way to present work to upper management, and at what point should I get them involved?

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Great question. I’d say you want any C-level decision maker involved as early as possible. In this case, your goal should be to understand the CEO’s expectations – to the extent that this is possible – before your creative agency goes full steam ahead with any conceptual work. And even if you’re confident that you understand what your CEO is looking for, allowing him/her (let’s go with her) to be heard at the project’s onset is key to setting things up for success down the line.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Directing this project is what they hired me to do, not my CEO. Sounds about right, but unless you have autonomous control as the ultimate decision maker, you’ll need to find a way to connect early on with your Chief Executive. Three methods to do so come to mind:

  1. Invite your CEO to the project’s kick-off meeting. Not only will she have a voice at the table from the start, your agency can begin building rapport with her.
  2. If your CEO’s attendance at a kick-off meeting is just not realistic, ask her to weigh in on the project’s creative brief. This provides valuable, documented input that can then be played back to the CEO – in the form of concept rationale – when your agency presents its ideas. Side note, but an important one: I recommend having the agency present its ideas directly to her. They know the ins and outs of every concept and are best positioned to defend the work or offer alternative suggestions. Avoid the “PDF Presentation” where she is asked to weigh in on ideas after the fact.
  3. Co-opt another meeting you have scheduled with her to casually mention the project and solicit some input. This is a more subtle way to signal to your CEO that her opinion matters, and getting off-the-cuff remarks can offer valuable insight into what matters most to her.

You say your CEO is visionary and highly opinionated. It’s not a stretch to think these traits are accompanied by other idiosyncrasies or pet peeves that likely never find their way into a creative brief, but can threaten to instantly derail a project – it can be as simple as she has an aversion to a specific color, for example. These quirks are usually well known throughout an organization and are likely top of mind for you. So another tip is to hold what we call a sneak peek with your agency. It’s an early review of the work in progress – for your eyes only – with the intent of pinpointing any detail, large or small, which has the potential to distract or dissuade your CEO from seeing value in the ideas. You’ll need to anticipate the need for this extra step and have your agency incorporate it into its project timeline.

So let’s just say your CEO provided her early thoughts, a sneak peek was had, and you’re feeling good about where things are headed. The next question becomes: Do you share these early concepts with your CEO or do you wait and show her a refined set of ideas incorporating feedback from other stakeholders in your company?

Many factors come into play here – tradition (what has your company done in the past), timelines/travel schedules/availability, if your CEO is a conceptual thinker or more literal-minded, etc. That’s a long-winded way of saying it sort of depends. But my standing advice is this: refinements are often made to adjust ideas to the personal preferences of the decision makers – and there’s nothing wrong with that, other than they are not necessarily the personal preferences of your CEO. Evaluating creative work is a lot like trying on new clothes (by the way, shopping is another topic where I’m a subject matter expert, just sayin’). You may have gathered opinions from many decision makers about how the clothes look and feel, but if the one paying for them (your CEO) doesn’t dig ‘em, it doesn’t matter how tailored they are to the tastes of others. In other words, if you’ve done your due diligence with a sneak peek, then the first presentation of early concepts is the optimal opportunity to share with the top dog. If the unthinkable occurs and your CEO dislikes what she sees, it’s much easier to salvage time/resources in order to course correct. And if she happens to be delighted by the work and gravitates towards a specific direction, you can then proceed with confidence and gusto to bring that direction to life.


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