Creative Brief

How to write a good creative brief

If you want to get creative professionals talking, ask them about the quality of the creative briefs they receive from their clients — when they receive one at all. The briefs they get are often misleading, self-contradictory, and useless. Without a good brief, these people cannot do their best work for you. How can you write a good brief that will inspire them?

What is a creative brief?

A creative brief is written by a client to communicate the requirements of an upcoming project, and to request feedback and, normally, a project proposal. The brief describes what the client wants to accomplish with the project, and outlines important project parameters, such as desired outcomes, the wants and needs of key stakeholders, time and budget allotments, etc.

Why are creative briefs needed?

Imagine an architect whose client says only, “I want you to build a house for us next year”, or an investment broker who receives a call with instructions “to buy that technology stock”, or a surgeon who is told to operate on a patient, but not told which operation to perform. How well do you think each of those projects will turn out? Creative professionals often receive briefs as sketchy as those, which lead to similarly dismal results. Unless a creative brief clearly states an organization’s objectives and expectations for a project, that project is unlikely to succeed.

Unfortunately, when clients approach companies in the creative industries, the information they provide is often only verbal, vague and limited. Those in creative agencies then have to try to pry other information they need out of their clients. This wastes time, and can lead to contradictory information. Another problem with verbal briefs is that project information goes verbally from executives to managers to those who deal directly with the creative agency, and the information received by the person at the end of the communication chain is often very different from what was intended. The result? Bad briefs, bad proposals, and a long, frustrating project that produces poor results.

How to write a good creative brief?

The requirements for a good creative brief vary, depending on the type of project and the sort of agency being asked to create a proposal. A brief which asks an industrial design firm to create packaging for a new product will be quite different from one asking an architecture firm to design a new corporate headquarters. But in any case, a creative brief needs to address all of the 5W2H questions — what, why, who, when, where, how, and how much. Here’s a structure I suggest:

  1. Project introduction: In the first part of the brief, you say what you want to the project to accomplish, and how the creative agency can help. For example, you may want to develop a new product, and are asking an innovation company to facilitate an ideation project to create product ideas.
  2. Company: This states who you are. It should include your name, your products, your company size, your values, your current market, and your basic methods of operation, such as product development, production, or distribution. For some projects, you may also include things such as your brand strategy, positioning, media plan, etc.
  3. Customers: Next, provide information about those who are targeted by the project, which might include demographics, purchasing power, perceived wants and needs, etc.
  4. Competition: Review your competitors and analyze their strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Project parameters: Describe the creative challenge the project is meant to address, specify the project objectives, and list the expected outcomes to be produced by the project. It’s a good idea to state how the project’s success will be measured. Be certain to define the scope of the project so the creative agency can get an idea of the resources needed.
  6. Project schedule: List the phases of the project, and specify any important dates, key milestones, and deadlines. When appropriate, also specify where project activities will take place.
  7. Project resources: Last but hardly least, state the project budget, and what resources, human and otherwise, your organization will commit to the project.

Why talk numbers?

Telling a creative agency your project budget may seem like a poor tactic, but you should do it anyway. Why? Knowing this information allows an agency to check the reasonableness of the project. Does the budget fit the scope of the project? Can the agency accomplish the objectives of the project? Is the agency able to make a profit — and yes, you want them to make a profit. How to make this a success for both the client and the creative agency — as well as for those end users who are targeted by the project?

Conclusion: Taking the time to write a good creative brief allows your partners in the creative industries to give you better feedback, provide you with a better project proposal, and to drive the project to a successful conclusion.

Do you have a creative project or innovation project coming up in the new year on which we may assist you? Why don’t you directly apply what you’ve learned and compose a good creative brief?  Of course, you can also simply send us an email and let us know more about your upcoming project — and we take it together from there.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2014. 
This article was published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on December 4 2014.