How to write a Creative Brief

A Creative Brief is one of those things that can make or break a successful ad or marketing campaign. But in my experience, few know how to write a useful one. And the reason seems to be that the people tasked with writing it (whether account executives or clients) seem to be unclear on whom the brief is for, or what its function is. So I’m going to clear this up, as service to mankind and to countless unborn generations.

What is it supposed to do?

The Creative Brief is a kind of work order, a blueprint, for the function of the piece that is to be created. That piece is a device designed to persuade somebody to do something you want them to do. Doesn’t matter what; an ad, a commercial, a poster, a blog post, a website, any marketing tool. The very reason you’re doing an ad, say, is not to do an ad (that would be silly, though I’ve seen so many briefs start with “to do an ad”); it’s to change somebody’s mind. So make sure this is in the brief; what you want them to think or do after they see the thing.

Whom is the Creative Brief for?

The clue is hidden in the title. The creative team. They’re the ones who have to actually create the ad, the website, the brochure, the piece. Hence the adjective, “creative.”  And in order for them to have the best information to make an effective ad, website, video, brochure, or thing, they need a useful brief–written for them.

The Creative Brief, contrary to what most seem to think, is not for the client, or for the account executive. That would be another brief, not the “creative” one. It’s for the creatives.

But doesn’t the client have to sign off on the creative brief?

Of course! (Notice I used a bang. Because someone’s life is at stake.) The client (or if you happen to be the client writing the brief, you) needs to sign off because this brief is the thing you’re going to use to see whether or not the wacky ideas your creative team comes up with actually do the job you set it to do.  That’s why it’s fundamental to the brief to define that outcome.  So if your creatives come to you with a left-field concept, instead of reacting to it based on whether you simply “like” it or not, you can hold it up to the criteria in the brief and see.  And the creative team can hold it up themselves to see, even before they take it to you. Makes it a much more professional, efficient, and objective process.

How long should it be?

The clue to this answer is also in the name, Creative Brief. A good brief, even for something as complex as an integrated marketing campaign, should be no more than one page. That’s right. If your strategy is so complicated that it won’t fit on one page, go back and think a little more. You don’t get points for word count.

A Template for a Creative Brief

This template was first created by Dave McAuliffe at McCannErickson years ago, one of the most brilliant account executives I ever worked with. I have ported it with me ever since, sharing it with every AE at every ad agency. It is, as far as I’m concerned, the quintessence of how a good Creative Brief should be designed. And because I’m on a mission to improve advertising in the world (rather than join the cranky myriads decrying how evil and bad it’s become), I’m sharing it with you here. Feel free to copy and paste it under your own company’s format. It’s my gift to you.

The Creative Brief template is set up as a questionnaire. Answer the six simple questions and you’ve done a useful brief. Of course, add all the housekeeping stuff, like client info, job number and name, delivery dates, media etc.–do I have to do everything for you?

Now go to lunch.

ADVERTISING CREATIVE BRIEF TEMPLATE

What is the purpose of the ad?

What outcome do you want to see after the ad has run? Increased brand awareness? Lead generation? Product preference? Direct sales? Indirect sales?

What is the single main thought?

Describe the single most tangible thing about this product or service that the customer would care about. What problem does it solve?  This is the main thought that a reader should get right away, even if she doesn’t read or hang around for the rest of the ad.

What supports this?

Stick to the provable facts. “Because we said so” or our own claims to leadership won’t hack it.

Whom are we talking to?

Describe the person who will most likely act on this ad (not the client).

What else has to absolutely be included in the ad?

Charts? URLs?  Product images? Award medallions? Phone numbers? Promotions? Disclaimers?

What do we want the audience to do?

What action do we want them to take? Call? Go to our website? Buy? Sign up? Walk their dog? Stop smoking? Just keep us in mind?

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