How to Write a Successful Creative Brief in 9 Steps

Writing a Creative Brief


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The creative brief is the foundation of any advertising or marketing campaign. A creative brief is an account team's interpretation of the client's wishes. It is your job of a good account manager or planner to extract everything you possibly can from the client. This is the time to find out as much as possible about the product or service.

What is the product or service’s strengths and weaknesses, for instance? How was it brainstormed? Who benefits from it? What stories can the client tell you? What problems are they facing? You should sit down with the client in person, if possible, and ask every conceivable question, squeezing every last drop of information from the client.

Using the Product or Service

Using the client’s product or service is crucial. If possible, you should soak it all in before you write. Get samples of the product they’re selling. If it's a service, you should test it out. If it's a car, you should drive it. If it's fast food, you should eat it. 

Whatever the product or service is, you should experience everything as a consumer, not an advertiser. The more you know, the better your brief will be. This will allow you to explain the strengths and turn weaknesses into selling points with a personal perspective. Great advertising is based on the product. It focuses on it. 

Writing Everything Down

After talking to the client or using the product, write about the first thoughts you had, jotting down the goal of the client, the budget, the timeline, the obstacles, and everything else that you have collected. By putting everything down, you will start to see links between seemingly random thoughts. At this point, potential strategies can begin to emerge. 

Organizing Everything

Now that the raw material has been gathered, it's time to start organizing it into something useful. Every creative brief is different, but they share similar traits. These are the most common sections of a creative brief:

  • Background
  • Target audience
  • Objectives
  • Single-Minded Proposition (SMP)—also known as Unique Selling Point (USP), key message, or direction
  • Key benefits
  • Reasons to believe
  • Audience takeaway
  • Deliverables (outdoor, print, TV, etc.)
  • Budget
  • Schedule

The Single-Minded Proposition

The SMP is the driving force behind the campaign. It's the arrow that points your creative team in the right direction. This section has many names: key takeaway, main insight, unique selling point. 

Whatever you choose to call it, you should focus all of your energy on it. The rest of the information is just information. This is where you need to boil down everything you have collected, talking to the creative director and other account people on the team to get to the essence of the project. 

Editing and Simplifying the Brief

Now that all the information is down on paper, it's time to get the red pen out and make some edits. The job here is not to impress people with how much research and data has been collected. The creative brief should be just that—creatively written and concise. Cutting it to the bone, you should get rid of anything unnecessary.

Creative briefs should be one page. There's rarely any need to go beyond that. All of that research that was compiled—the product background and competitive ads—are all supporting documents. They play no part in the creative brief. Think of the brief as a rousing speech to stir up the troops and get them motivated. 

Getting the Creative Director's Feedback

A good creative director will insist on seeing every brief that comes through the department. After all, it's their job to oversee the creative work, and the brief is a huge part of that process. It shouldn’t be a drive-by process or merely emailed. You should sit down and go through it with the creative director. Doing so will give them the opportunity to take feedback, ask questions, and get direction. The brief will rarely be a hit on the first try, so you'll likely be repeating this process at least once more.

Getting the Client's Approval

At this point, presenting the work to the client is paramount, because you need their approval on the agency's direction for the campaign. Not on the creative itself, but on the direction the project will go. If the client says, "I don't like it. That's not what we wanted," then you can go back to the creative brief and say "actually, it is."  When the creative brief is signed by the client, it shows they agreed to it. If they need different work, they need a new creative brief and, more importantly, the agency gets more time.

Presenting the Brief

When a concise, creative brief has approval from all parties, it's time to brief the creative team. You should do it in person or via phone/video conference if a live meeting isn't possible. Avoid sending an email, or worse, leaving a photocopy on desks with "any questions, gimme a call" scrawled on it.

This is the opportunity to start the project right. An in-person briefing also gives the creatives a chance to ask questions, clear up any possible gray areas, and feel out other issues that may come up. Following these steps, your team should be well on its way to writing a brief that gets results.