Creative Briefs: One Part Information, Two Parts Inspiration

Why Strong Creative Requires a Strong Creative Brief

It’s a much debated and ever-evolving element of the advertising world:  the creative brief. Every agency has one. It may be a one-page slide listing the bare bones facts, or a 10-page document meticulously detailing every known fact about the client, product and project. Just do a quick web search for “creative briefs” and you will come across pages and pages of examples, “how to” articles and opinionated assessments on this hotly debated document.

And it’s no wonder. How can one document be equally appropriate for developing a large-scale brand campaign as well as a one-off print ad? While we could debate the appropriate structure and application of the creative brief for hours, one thing is certain: a well-written creative brief is essential for getting great creative work. Why?

  • It provides a single starting point. A creative brief ensures that every member of a project team, including the client, is on the same page at the start of a project regarding objectives, expectations and deliverables. This removes the opportunity for the assumptions and misunderstandings that can quickly derail a project.
  • It provides a roadmap. Would you drive somewhere new without a map or directions to help you get there? I didn’t think so. The same holds true for a new project. You can’t reach your destination – at least not on time and on budget – by going in blind. There is great value in being fully prepared before embarking on your journey.
  • It provides inspiration, not just information. The ultimate goal of the creative brief is to inspire great ideas out of the creative team. Information alone does not inspire – insights and problems do. The true value is added by analyzing the available information, paring it down to what is truly important, and applying below-the-surface insights that are relevant and unique.
  • It provides a catalyst to a solution, not the solution.  A great brief doesn’t solve the problem. Instead, it clearly defines the problem and delivers insights that will lead to a thoughtful solution. It enables the creative team to do its job, and do it well.

Knowing why a creative brief is important is only part of the equation. The next part – and the truly challenging one – is making sure the creative brief is rooted in the thought, creativity and insights that will inspire a team to produce the best work possible. To provide a few pointers, I turned to my colleagues:

Mike Sanford, Vice President, Creative Director

The goal is not just a creative brief, but a well written creative brief. Writing smart, inspiring, concise creative briefs is not easy. It’s not copying and pasting, and it’s not simply dropping everything you know about the project into a document. It’s looking over a vast sea of information and potential ways to deliver a message and guiding the creative team to the fishing spot where they are most likely to reel in the big ones. Strategy folks, clients, account people and creative people can all be a part of getting the brief right.

Steve Parker, Senior Digital Design.

A creative brief should be exactly that: creative and brief. If you can say something in five words or in twenty words, say it in five. We need clear and concise information. In any given week, we may be juggling fifteen different projects, and we don’t have time to sift through a creative brief that is bogged down with information. Sure it may be useful, but tell me what I really need to know rather than everything that you know.

Amy Harman, Senior Account Executive

Keep the big picture in mind and in the creative brief. Strategy should always be at the heart of the work. At the start of any new project, clearly and concisely outline project objectives and strategic direction. This removes any guesswork or assumptions that could lead to inferior or inefficient work. It holds the client, the account team and the creative team accountable to that strategy and set of objectives throughout the process, and helps facilitate productive discussion and constructive criticism.

Need a little extra inspiration? Take a look back at one of the best examples of the power of a good creative brief, the “Got Milk?” campaign.


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