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  • Carol Hackett

Writing a better creative brief

Creative Tips From a Creative Leader - Part 1

One of the first steps before kicking off a marketing project with a creative team is writing the creative brief. If you work in marketing, advertising, or design, chances are you’ve used creative briefs before. These documents are essential in guiding the creation of successful projects. They act as a roadmap that takes a project from ideation to completion, and contain critical information such as target audience, due date, and creative objective. But what else goes in to crafting the best brief?

As a creative leader, I rely on the creative brief to be my single source of truth for a project. If I have a question about tonality or messaging, it’s the first place I’ll go for an answer. At Pragmatic, we usually rely on the account team to write the brief, which makes sense since these folks are the go-between from the client to creative team. They’re most familiar with our clients’ businesses, objectives, and strategies; and will usually write the brief after meeting with a client to kick off a project. So, in essence, the creative brief is a contract between agency and client that states the objectives of our mission and the necessary building blocks to get there.

If you ask the internet, you’ll find dozens of creative brief templates to help get you going. I’ve found the good ones typically contain these 11 necessary sections:

  1. Contacts – The team players who are responsible for reviewing and approving the project creative.

  2. Project details – The format(s) the project will take; i.e. postcard, digital ad, landing page, etc.

  3. Specs – Format dimensions and/or file size requirements, number of pages, colors used, etc. This is also where you might point your designer to any existing templates needed to design the project.

  4. Background – What has happened up to this point to get us where we need this new project created? What creative deliverables already exist around this campaign?

  5. OBJECTIVE – This is a biggie, the real rai·son d'ê·tre for creating this project. It essentially boils down to this: What are we trying to accomplish with this communication? What is our main message?

  6. CTA (Call to Action) – What is the specific action we want our reader to take? Call the 1-800 number? Scan the QR code? Download the app? If there’s more than one CTA, be clear on which one takes priority.

  7. Messaging points – Here is where we might bring in supporting points to the Objective. In other words, what other messages need to be included that back up what the main message claims?

  8. Target audience – To effectively communicate, it’s essential to know who you’re talking to. Demographics as well as audience pain points are helpful here.

  9. Tone – Should we sound serious, matter-of-fact? Or more friendly and humorous? Defining the tone is helpful for both writer and designer to capture the message accurately.

  10. Mandatories – Here is where we’d list any knowns that must be included in our deliverable. Is there a new logo? Maybe a sub-set of the brand colors that correspond with this product line? Or specific wording that the CEO favors?

  11. Timeline – Schedule of review dates, presentation date, and drop-dead delivery date should all be included here.

So now that we know the basics of the brief, what tips and tricks can we employ to take our brief to the next level? The best briefs I’ve found keep these 3 things top-of-mind:

Keep your brief brief

The creative brief isn’t a dumping ground for any and all information. If you’re writing a brief, resist the urge to just copy and paste from other documents. Be selective and ask yourself “is this info necessary and relevant for this particular project?” Keeping your brief easily scannable will be greatly appreciated by your busy team.

Use plain language.

I can’t tell you how many briefs I’ve read that have left me scratching my head and wondering “what does that even mean?” A great rule of thumb is to approach your brief as if you’re writing it for a student or novice to the industry. Don’t litter your brief with obscure acronyms that your creative team may not know. Define all necessary industry terms and remember, if no one can understand your brief then chances are no one will understand the resulting creative.

Don’t be afraid to include previous creative samples

Sometimes clients are hesitant to share old creative samples relating to your project. They fear that the creative team will take the old sample and simply rejigger it, leaving them less than impressed. While it’s an understandable fear, rest assured that most writers and designers are determined to improve and evolve, not repeat and regurgitate. Previous creative samples can be super-helpful in getting started. Knowing what the target audience (and internal stakeholders) have already seen helps steer where to go next. Whether the old sample received good or bad results, it can be greatly beneficial in directing your team to take what’s working and re-invent the rest.

So that’s it. Taking the time to do it right is helpful for all stakeholders in the creative process. Keep these points in mind when writing your next creative brief and get ready to have your expectations exceeded—and garner greater results.


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