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Creative Brief Definition
& Pro Tips

A Brief Definition

A creative brief is a written document that specifies the objective of a communication and provides information to achieve that objective.

A creative brief is like a road map. A great brief is clear and specific. It leads to imaginative and persuasive ads, Websites or videos. And gets you there quickly.

A bad brief is incomplete or confusing. It starts you off in the wrong direction. So you have to stop, figure out where the heck you're going, and start again. Or worse, you follow that brief to Trash Town, a total waste of time.

Creative Brief example

Don't Kill The Creative

There are several ways that a creative brief can deal a death blow to the creative process, and ultimately to the finished creative product.

Poorly written briefs are always killers. And they are easy to spot. Just look for unrealistic objectives, ambiguous language or incomplete information about product benefits.

Another way to ID evil briefs is to ask the folks on the creative team. Ask the individual writer, designer, art or creative director, "Can you tell me where the brief is weak and suggest some ways to improve it?"

The creative folks can usually tell you whether the brief helps or hinders creative development. And most importantly, they can tell you how to write a better brief to help them make better creative.

Include customer quotes in the brief.

Yes, that means you will have to ask real buyers what they like about the service. Why they bought the product in the first place. How it compares to competing offerings. And what words they would use to express a recommendation.

I learned the value of this trick at Rapp Worldwide, where I would sometimes walk out on the sidewalk, video camera in hand, and snag interviews from people passing by. Seriously.

Clients love to see real customers talk about their products, or even their product category. The creative team loves to hear real customers use real language to describe how they really feel - or don't feel - about investment services, premium ice cream, and snacks for their pet pooch.

Those wonderful glimpses of reality frequently find their way into the ads.

> Slideshow: Example creative brief insights, objectives
and resulting ads

Creative Brief Slideshow


The preparation of the brief should be a collaborative process, a team project. Whether initiated by the client or the agency, the process should be open to input from creative, strategic planning, research, PR or the good folks down the hall in media. All stakeholders should have the opportunity to contribute.

The first draft should be tossed on the table with, "Here's where we're headed with this brief. What do you think?"

Creative Brief set

> Every Creative Director set includes:

- 3 Quick and clever ways to get consumer insights.

- 9 Specialized creative briefs, each in multiple file formats.

- 4 DIY workshops with activity book and instructional slideshows that include TV commercials, video and sample ads.

- Plus sample briefs, pro tips, and the extended slideshow:
How to write a creative brief.

Forget fixed-form briefs

A creative brief is essentially a list of questions. And most advertising or design shops have one brief. Unfortunately, one size does not fit all. There is no such thing as a single "perfect brief."

What you need in a creative brief is flexibility. You need the flexibility to select questions appropriate to any type of ad or campaign, in any medium. That could be a print ad or mailer or video. And that project could be either direct response or brand focused. Also, you might be working with a client you know well, or a new client that you do not know at all.

Clearly, you need a different brief - a different set of questions - for a new business pitch compared to a Facebook page compared to a TV campaign.

So dump those old writ-in-stone pre-printed briefs. Better to place the brief - the list of questions - on your computer. Then, for each new project, select the questions that are appropriate to the client and the project.

Sure, you'll have some "basic" briefs. But you and your team will also have the flexibility to better handle a wider range of projects, and importantly, to evolve with rapidly changing marketing environments.

Consumer insights from focus group research ;)

Creative briefs and clients

Spend a little extra time with both. It's good for your creative karma.

So go ahead. Open your calendar. Pick up the phone. Schedule interviews with key executives in sales, customer service, marketing as well as management.

Obviously, one goal is to learn more about the client's products and market. Another goal is to understand the client's culture and personality. You may want to reflect that personality in your ads - in the way you define the brand, in the way you position the company.

Also, look for interesting stories about the company, the founder / owner, or customers. You might find a campaign idea there.

Be sure to prepare your interview questions in advance. And bring a portable tape recorder to capture comments you can share with your creative partners.