In the simplest terms, a creative brief is a write-up of everything a forthcoming project should entail. It gives all of the background information, as well as all of the requirements and expectations for a project.
When it comes to copywriting, this is the one magical document that you cannot do without. It guides you, it protects you and, yes, sometimes it even calls you out if you fall short. This is the beauty of the creative brief. But just what constitutes a creative brief? And who writes it?
Who Writes a Creative Brief?
Usually, a creative brief is written up by the person requesting a project. In an in-house agency, that person is usually the project manager, brand manager, or marketing manager. In an agency, that person is usually the project manager (or someone with a similar title), who is writing the brief on behalf of the client.
If you’re working with a small business client, or even a company that is relatively new to having a formalized creative process, you may write the creative brief yourself.
Even if you’re working with an agency or in-house team, you want to make sure a creative brief is created and everyone agrees to what’s in it. That may mean you’re the one writing it (if you’re not on-staff, factor this into your project price!).
It seems a bit like an easy step to take, but you never want to work without a creative brief. A creative brief is your go-to reference for how to create a project.
Pushing for a Brief
Creative briefs are pretty standard throughout the creative industry. But there are still times when clients or product managers try to avoid them, usually for one of three reasons:
- They’re too busy to create one. However, if everyone is too busy, that’s only more reason to create one so the project doesn’t get off track and end up having to be redone!
- They don’t know how to create one. They’re uncomfortable doing something new, so they just avoid it. That’s where you can come in and provide even more value to the team!
- They don’t understand the brief’s purpose. They view the brief as an unnecessary, time-consuming step. This is usually an inexperienced project manager who hasn’t had a project completely go off the rails. (Or, if they have, they haven’t taken the time to realize the problem started way back when they didn’t get everyone on the same page. With a creative brief.)
A creative brief is key to producing work that meets the project objectives. It also helps prevent endless rounds of revisions. It may not always be comfortable to insist on a creative brief, but explain the benefit to your client or team: it ensures the project stays on track. It holds you accountable to deliver work that was agreed on and it holds the team or client accountable if they change their mind.
What’s in a Creative Brief?
Everything you need to know about a project should be answered in the brief. So, if a client asks any of these questions, you can say, “let’s check the brief.” Here’s a checklist for what (at minimum!) you need your brief to cover:
- The target audience
- The ONE next action you want the target audience to take (and if there are any secondary actions you want them to take)
- The benefit to the target audience
- The business objective (why the company wants this piece created)
- What tone the project should have (it should always be written in the brand voice, but does it also need to be urgent, friendly, promotional, educational, etc.?
- What the deliverables are (what, exactly, are you expected to produce? An email? A banner ad? A direct mail piece?)
- Any sizing information and how many versions are needed if
- Any mandatory elements (things that have to be in the piece, like a link to the product page or a Facebook like button or something like that; anything considered non-negotiable)
In addition to these elements, it’s also good to determine if the company has done a project similar to this one before and, if so, what the results were. This can help you build on previous wins—and avoid previous mistakes. It’s also a good idea to ask if any competitors are doing anything similar, just so you have that information to compare your work to, get inspired by any good ideas and avoid any of their mistakes.
If these aren’t covered in the brief you’re given for some reason, you need to get this info. And, if you’re creating a brief yourself for you and a freelance client to agree on (or for a spec piece you’re creating), this is a good place to start.
Getting Everyone’s Buy-In on the Creative Brief
Another important element is that the creative brief is agreed on by all of the relevant parties. You, your graphic designer, the project manager, and anyone else who has a stake in the project need to review the creative brief in the kick-off. Everyone should have the chance to ask questions or suggest changes.
The reason this is so important is two-fold. Number one, it means that everyone has the same idea and understanding of what the project is based on, what the project request is, and what the deliverables should entail. Without one written document to record all of this, you end up with five different people with five different expectations of how the project should turn out. And you’ve never seen chaos like a creative review for a piece created without a brief.
Second, frankly, it covers everyone’s butts. If you execute on the creative, brief but the project manager changes his or her mind midway through the project, you’ve still done your job well. You delivered what they asked for and if they change their mind later, it’s annoying, yes. But it’s not any failing on your part.
At the same time, though, it also covers the project manager’s rear. If the request an element in the creative brief and you neglect to put it in your finished creative, that’s your mistake. It’s in the brief and you should have done it.
So, as you can see, the creative brief is a super-important document. And, as such, you need to treat it that way. Don’t ever leave a kick-off until you completely understand the creative brief and everything that’s being asked of you. (After all, if you don’t get it, it’s no one’s responsibility but yours to ask! And, if you don’t get it, you’re going to deliver copy that doesn’t work, wastes people’s time, and reflects poorly on you.)
At the same time, don’t ever begin to execute your project until both you and your designer have thoroughly read the brief. Even if you get the overall concept, you don’t want to miss any details. It’s pretty embarrassing to have to answer a question in a creative review like, “But where’s the second CTA I asked for in the brief?” with “Oops.” And, as you know, “I don’t know” is never going to be a good answer.
So there you have it: the creative brief. A creative’s very best friend.
A Note for Comprehensive Copywriting Academy Students
You can find a creative brief template in Module 3, Video 1 of the Foundations section of the course!
Your turn! Have you worked with a creative brief yet? What did you find most helpful? Or what did you not find helpful? Let us know in the comments below!
Last Updated on April 14, 2022 by Kate Sitarz