The Creative Brief: The Fun Starts Here


Perhaps the most important piece of paper in the entire arsenal of a branding agency is a Creative Brief.

We love a good Creative Brief. It is the pivot between strategy and execution. The point where theorizing is complete and action begins. Simultaneously an end and a beginning. It lies at the nexus of everything.

It is the compression of what is known about a company, its customers and its competition, its offerings and the reasons they are the perfect solution to the problems faced by its customers; all on a single sheet of paper. One side.

It is a tool of immense value and power. A well-written brief will convey to a creative team everything they need to know with sufficient detail to either start working, or to ask smart questions.

If you do a Google search on “Creative Brief” you’ll find hundreds of examples; I found the one we typically use, and others that I liked less well. Personally I’ve used a dozen or so different formats, but the most useful one is a series of simple questions that lead logically from one to the next, and which taken together paint a complete picture:

  • Why are we advertising?
  • To whom are we talking?
  • What do they think now?
  • What do we want them to think?
  • Who are the competition?
  • What is the single most persuasive idea?
  • Why should they believe it?
  • What is the tone?
  • What is the call to action?

Pretty straightforward, right? Okay, try it. It’s not easy. Particularly if you subscribe, as we do, to the requirement that the Creative Brief be BRIEF: one page. And let’s not even start with the playing with the margins and font sizes already. One readable, useful page. Compress the writing; find a more efficient phrase; edit ruthlessly. Be pithy.

The more you know about a company or product, the easier it is to write a brief, and the better it is. It is important to keep in mind that a Creative Brief is a tool, something to be used to create something else. Therefore it must be useful: clear, insightful, interesting and inspirational. Creating a solid and true brand positioning beforehand is critical to a brilliant brief. If you find yourself fumbling around or making things up, then you haven’t done enough homework. Information leads to inspiration.

The writing needs to be good. Boredom kills creativity, and this is a creative document. A brief should be interesting and even entertaining to read, and must convey facts and relevant information in a way that creative people will consume and use. On the other hand, being TOO clever isn’t helpful either. This is a brief, not an ad.

And here’s another critical point. As smart and as thorough as the Account Planner or the Account Person are, a brief isn’t done and ready to use until your creative partner has read it and said “yeah, I can do something with that.”

Sounds obvious, but I’ve seen briefings where the creative teams looked up and said “wait…what?” Not a good start.

I’ve personally written hundreds of Creative Briefs over the years. They are always a little bit of a challenge, which I enjoy. There are two immediate rewards to a well-crafted brief: when your creative partner’s eyes light up and they say, “Got it; this will be fun,” and when the client reads it and says, “Nailed it. I can’t wait to see the work.”

In those statements is the essence of this document. It’s a tool and a pivot point, a way to turn all the input into very productive and useful output.

Call us if we should write one for you.

Posted in Branding