The complete guide to writing creative briefs

Julia Martins contributor headshotJulia MartinsJanuary 24th, 20207 min read
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Just like any other task, creative work deserves a clear plan and measurable goals before work begins. That’s where a creative brief comes in. Developing a creative brief allows you to take a proactive approach and outline requirements while planning out your creative work. Among other important elements, your creative brief is your opportunity to define the scope, deadlines, and deliverables specific to the creative part of your project.

Overall, a creative brief helps keep everyone on the same page—reducing feelings of frustration or confusion—while making sure no part of the design process is bottlenecked.

What is a creative brief?

A creative brief serves as the inspiration and guide to a body of work that typically involves team collaboration between designers, copywriters, content marketing, and other departments. The goal is to get all stakeholders aligned with creative requirements, establish key messaging, manage expectations, and make it easy for the creative team to execute successfully. Not only is an effective creative brief extremely helpful from a creative standpoint—it also serves as your one-stop-shop for all of your project's key information.

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A creative brief is used to define any relevant creative requirements, including messaging, audience, and outlining how success will be measured. Once the brief is created, plan to host a kickoff meeting to discuss conflicts or restrictions. That way, you have time to revise and update your creative brief before the work begins.

Remember this—creative briefs aren’t meant to be written and then left stagnant. Before your work begins, your creative brief should be an ever-evolving document that may change as the creative requirements continue to be scoped or tweaked. However, by the time the work starts, your creative brief should be a clear plan and have specific goals that your design, content, and creative teams can refer back to throughout the process, making sure everyone is aligned and making the right decisions.

Essential elements of a great creative brief

Understanding what a creative brief is and why you need one is important. However, knowing what to actually put in one will save you significant time and reduce back and forths with your creative team. You can avoid having to circle back to questions and conflicts down the road by putting the appropriate information in your creative brief up front.

Take a look at these “must-haves” for every creative brief. Whether you’re planning a marketing campaign, writing a creative brief for an advertising agency, or preparing a creative brief for your internal team, these nine steps will help you clarify the key information your team needs for success. Keep in mind that your brief may contain more elements—and you can certainly add them as they relate to your work—but the criteria mentioned below should be part of nearly every creative brief.

  • Title and description

  • Goals and objectives

  • Audience

  • Messaging and tone

  • Assets and deliverables

  • Stakeholders

  • Budget

  • Timeline

  • Distribution process

Title and description

First, give your creative brief a title. Provide a short description of the creative work so team members understand why they are a part of it. Let them know the intention of the creative work.

Example:

Title: Advertising campaign for new product launch

Description: As we prepare to launch Apollo Enterprises newest product, we’ll be putting together a series of advertisements to introduce it to the market.

Goals and objectives

Why are you working on this? At this point in your creative brief, you want to define the specific business need and what the work will accomplish. What does success look like for this particular body of work? As you’re writing down your goals, make sure they are measurable. At the end of the project, you’ll want to look back on them and clearly know if you’ve met your objectives.

Example:

Goals and objectives: Reach 500,000 potential customers via paid search over a one-month period and add 5,000 new subscribers to our email list.

Read: Write better SMART goals with these tips and examples

Audience

Outlining your target audience will help better tailor your creative to them. Look for specific insights, as those become your gems of valuable information. Get clear on who will be consuming your deliverable (video, ad, etc.). Try your best to define what that person looks like by outlining demographics such as age, gender, income level, marital status, or education level.

Also note what your audience values, along with their interests, wants, and needs. State if you’re trying to reach current customers or potential ones. Answering as many questions as possible about what your audience looks like will help you and your team along the way.

Example:

Audience: Men, 30-65, mid-high income, at least a high school diploma. They value time outdoors, working with their hands, tools, and gadgets. They’re not current Apollo Enterprises’ customers.

Messaging and tone

Now that you know who your audience is, you need to clearly establish what messaging you want to put in front of them. Also, when your target market receives that message, what should they think, feel, want, and do? Are you asking them to take an action?

If you already have brand guidelines be sure to include them in your creative brief, or direct stakeholders on where to find them. Following brand guidelines ensures the tone and voice of your messaging matches that of your overall brand, and keeps your messaging consistent across marketing initiatives.

If you don’t have established brand guidelines, work with the right team members to put together some information about the tone and voice that this particular creative work should follow. Think of your message as a person. It should have a voice (a personality) and a tone (a mood or attitude).

Example:

Messaging and tone: We want to empower our audience to be creators and use Apollo Enterprises’ new product as part of their most valued suite of tools. We should celebrate the target audience for working with their hands and make them feel proud of their creations.

Assets and deliverables

Since your team’s work will produce some sort of creative asset (or many), this part of your brief should describe what those assets and deliverables are. For example, if you’re creating an advertisement, the final deliverable would be the actual ad. Make sure you specify asset requirements such as dimensions, number of versions, and design elements.

Example:

Assets and deliverables: Three different advertisements, each with a different tagline and image (one version for each of the following sizes: 250x250, 728x90, 120x600).

Stakeholders

Creative work usually requires cross-functional team collaboration. Marketing and design are almost always involved, and oftentimes other departments will also play a part. This means several individuals from different teams working together on the same desired outcome.

This is why it’s so important to identify all important stakeholders upfront. Each team member should know who is involved and what they’re responsible for. You’ll save yourself a lot of time fielding questions down the line if you add this to your creative brief.

Example:

Stakeholders:

  • Creative team: Larry (ad copy), Emma (ad design)

  • Marketing team: Hannah (team lead), Caleb (email marketing setup for campaign), Terry (ad distribution)

  • Product team: Zach (Product Manager)

Budget

Establishing your budget from the start will help you actually stay in line financially and guide your decision-making. Be sure you write down actual numbers and identify costs where you can. Conducting some quick research ahead of time will help. Are there ways you can cut some costs? Giving yourself some time to play with the numbers before you even begin the work will keep you in good graces with your boss!

Example

Budget: The overall budget is $8,000 with $5,000 going to ad spend, $1,500 to design, and $1,500 to copywriting.

Timeline

Establishing a timeline for your work early on will keep you and your team on track. Decide on a start date and end date, and then fill in as many important dates as you can in between. Knowing the important deadlines from the beginning gives all stakeholders an idea of how long their part of the work will take. They can plan accordingly and let you know of any conflicts. Be as specific as you can with dates and deadlines, and keep in mind that adjustments may need to be made as the work progresses.

Example:

Timeline:

  • Kickoff meeting: May 5

  • Final creative brief due: May 10

  • Ad copy due: May 30

  • Ad designs due: June 10

  • Ad buy plans due: June 15

  • Ads are live: July 1 - July 31

  • Measure ad success: Ongoing

  • Wrap-up: August 15

Distribution process

Identifying how your media assets will actually get to your audience is a part of your creative brief that can’t be skipped. All the hard work you put into every other step of your creative process culminates with an effective distribution strategy. In other words, how will you communicate your message? Social media, email, blog posts, and paid advertisements are just a few ways to distribute your media.

Example:

Distribution process: Google Adwords platform to deploy ads.

Example of a well-written creative brief

Seeing examples of what great creative briefs actually look like can help you formulate your own. Check out this stellar example and pay close attention to the details. You can tell that the project manager took time and thought to develop this creative brief, and help their team work together smoothly.

Creative brief template

Get started with this creative brief template to outline your campaign goals, creative deliverables, due date, marketing strategy, and more.

Title and description:

A clear name that your stakeholders can easily identify, and a short summary that conveys the intention of your creative brief.

Goals and objectives:

Define the metrics of success for your creative brief.

Audience:

Who are you targeting in your campaign and what are their values, interests, and needs? This section should include any relevant demographics.

Messaging and tone:

What type of tone are you trying to strike? How do you want your audience to feel when they see your creative assets?

Assets and deliverables:

  • Asset and deliverable 1

  • Asset and deliverable 2

  • Asset and deliverable 3

Stakeholders

  • Stakeholder 1

  • Stakeholder 2

  • Stakeholder 3

Budget:

What is your overall budget? Are there any specific details to how the budget should be spent?

Timeline:

  • Date: Description

  • Date: Description

  • Date: Description

  • Date: Description

Distribution process:

Specify how you will reach your audience once your assets and deliverables are ready.

How to use a creative brief when working with agencies

Sometimes internal stakeholders aren’t the only people you’ll be collaborating with on creative work. Companies may choose to hire an agency to help. If you find yourself working with an agency, here’s how you can use a creative brief to make the most out of the partnership.

Use your creative brief as a starting point

When you deliver the creative brief to your agency contacts, take the opportunity to discuss your goals with them and refine the creative brief if necessary. Ask for their input. They are there to help and getting their buy-in will make every part of the overall process easier. Allow your agency partners to educate you on what will work and what won’t.

Make the final version of your creative brief as robust as possible

The more valuable information you put it in, the less questions will come your way later. And, remember, while the agency is a partner of yours, they are working with other companies as well. Giving them as much information as you can will make you and your creative brief stick out (in a good way). For example, you’ll want to include any applicable style guides, tone of voice recommendations, relevant internal messaging information, and any brand guidelines the agency should keep in mind while working.

Be open to changes

Creative work moves quickly, and some project leaders make the mistake of thinking their creative brief has to be rigid in order to support fast-moving teams. In reality it’s a living document. Until you start executing on the work, it should always be open to conversations and edits.

Write your best creative brief yet

You’re feeling good, right? Hopefully developing your own creative brief doesn’t seem so daunting after all and you’re ready to get moving on building your next one. After you’ve written your creative brief, manage the next steps in your creative process in a work management tool, like Asana. Not only will it help keep you organized—it will actually help you run the show.

Build a creative brief that makes your life (and those of your stakeholders) easier to execute your creative work successfully.

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