6 tips for writing a creative brief

Scott Moe

April 12, 2016

Creative briefs

If you’ve ever suffered through a difficult client/agency relationship, you’ll know what a frustrating experience it can be. As the client you feel like you’re not getting the agency’s best work and are wasting your money. Meanwhile the agency tears out its hair at your indecisiveness, while submitting new stories of outrage to clientsfromhell.net.

In most cases, this strain between the two sides is a result of miscommunication and misunderstanding, much of which stems from a single source: a badly prepared creative brief.

The creative brief is an extremely important document that should clearly communicate a campaign’s desired direction and outcomes, while educating the agency about the client. Yet too many clients see it as just a painful form to complete and don’t give it the required time and thought.

When this happens, agencies are more likely to miss the mark with their creative efforts because the brief didn’t provide enough guidance or steered them the wrong way. For an agency’s creative team, the brief is like a bible, which is why “that wasn’t in the brief” is a commonly heard excuse when client feedback introduces new ideas and requests.

If you’re a client about to work with an agency – whether you’re in the marketing department or a business owner – don’t blow off the brief. Instead use these six tips to ensure your next creative brief gets you exactly the campaign your business needs.

1. Write your own brief
Completing a brief form sent to you by an agency is a pain. That’s because it’s a standard template designed to cover the diverse needs of their clients. So instead of struggling to make their template fit your business, create your own brief from scratch. That way you can focus on your intentions, ideas and idiosyncrasies and not on how to shoehorn them into the agency’s template.

2. Split your thought process
Think about your brief in two distinct parts. The first is a macro view of your business and target audience and will probably be the same for all of your creative briefs – saving you valuable time in future. The second part is an ever-changing micro view that focuses on the specific campaign you’re discussing and should include goals, direction, references and must-haves.

2014 Hightail email illustration: Swap Ideas Day3. Have a single compelling idea
When a potential customer experiences your new campaign, what is the one thing you want them to take away? This single compelling idea is the most critical part of your brief – 80% of your brief creation time should be focused on it. But you don’t want your agency to just come back with it as a tagline. It should act as more of a starting point for their creative process.

4. Be guided by your goal
What are you looking for from the agency? Do you want fresh creative insights and inspiration or just new strategies and tactics for your existing messaging? If it’s the former, your brief should be less prescriptive and focus on providing the information that will let the creative team do its thing. For the latter, be clear about your new objective and which assets to use.

5. Mind your language
Resist the temptation to simply copy and paste language from existing promotional material or internal documents (unless you wrote it yourself). You’re responsible for the relationship with your agency so you need be able to explain everything about the business in your own words. And remember to keep the language simple, concise and jargon-free. Would your grandma understand it?

6. Don’t write a brief
As an alternative to all of the above, have a meeting with your agency where you tell them everything they need to know about your business. Then have the agency write the brief. It’s a great way of ensuring they’ve really listened and understood your needs. Of course, you’ll still need to spend time thinking about the initial story you tell them so the above tips remain useful.

The next time you hire an agency, use these six tips to create a better brief that will help deliver a successful campaign. Got advice you’d like to share? Post it to the comments below.

Responses

  1. guy mathiot

    11 months ago

    We are a textile consumer goods design and development consultancy….As you indicate above we have a briefing form for clients but it’s only 1and a third pages long and clients find it a really useful document because it explores their commercial objectives even more than it dioes the creative aspects. The brief we end up with is always an amalgam of their plans and our ideas so we expect to spend no less that 2 weeks or so on a dialogue – and we even give clients an upfront idea of costs before they even start – this way they can do their planning and see if it all works for them . The key part for both of us after we have both learnt what the objectives are – shared ideas and vision’s of where we are going is to simply write clearly the deliverables and we also include all the variables that might come up so they can be assured we have thought through the “what if” scenario’s. Good business is no surprises business and then we can get on with having fun doing the bit we love which is being creative and solving problems.

  2. Al

    11 months ago

    This is a great read. The power of the Creative Brief is highly under rated. For years I (I’m a photographer) I have asked clients for their brief but it literally NEVER happens. Often I can bring a great deal more help to get to the objective. Typically we get “there” but we spend to much time and energy with trial and error until we begin to pry the objectives from the AD and/or Marketer. I often say if a goal could be achieved in writing alone we would not be creating a visual language interpretation (the final image) of your goals. This is very short version of my sense of the CB significance but when you give the brief too the ENTIRE creative team you will always get abetter visual asset. I feel better now!

  3. Steven Stark

    11 months ago

  4. Claudia Trusty

    11 months ago

    We are a full-service marketing firm, working with small to mid-size businesses, and usually with the owner or partners. They seldom are prepared to complete any creative brief, and we discontinued that many years ago. Building a strong relationship is critical for us so we meet with potential clients to discuss their business: goals, opportunities, needs, concerns. Then we come back to them with an overview of the conversation and a proposal for work including creative approach. If we are off-base, we correct that before we begin work. Most often the client is very happy to have a partner that “gets” them.

  5. Al

    11 months ago

    I wholeheartedly agree with #3–having a single compelling idea is key. However, this can be really difficult for clients because they often feel they have so many positive things to say about their product or service. (i.e. It does a, b, c, and d!) Competitive evaluation and team discussions with the agency can help resolve this. It’s critical, because the most successful communications focus on a singular point of differentiation.

  6. John Strahl

    11 months ago

    Having seen plenty of client/agency discontent over the years, this is SMART advise and a simple roadmap to mitigate breakdowns.

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