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The Nuts and Bolts of the Creative Brief

Ever feel like your creative and marketing projects start one way, and then develop a life of their own, running off the trail in every direction? Do your projects miss the mark in terms of completion time, budget or outcome?

That means you need a better creative brief.

Now, sometimes creative briefs have fallen by the wayside for ‘lack of time’.  But the time you put in up front will ensure you meet all of your goals on-time and on-budget.

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Creative Briefs

What’s a creative brief? And why is this so important?

A creative brief is an organizational tool that every project needs to keep it on track. It’s based on a simple form that’s been refined through the years within each organization who uses it religiously – and that is what makes it work.

There are questions or ‘prompts’ in a brief that provide essential information for a creative team to consider as they start a project.

If you work with creatives on any kind of project – copywriting, design, marketing, whatever… you absolutely need a creative brief. It outlines the reason for the project, the nature of the brand, the target audience, the restrictions, the goals of the project … even details like word limits and color/image restrictions are important. It’s all there in black and white.

Now, most seasoned marketers have had the experience of handing over a project to a writer and/or designer, and when you see their first draft back you stare at it and say, “What happened? Why is this so far off track?”

Well, there’s a very good chance that there was no brief — and because of that, the verbal and unorganized written communication provided at ‘kickoff’ didn’t include some essential tidbit of information that would have kept it on track. This can happen also if the creative team just jumps in and ignores the brief.  You must sit down and run through the brief with the players, or nobody will get around to reading it.

What’s included in a creative brief?

Each organization seems to develop their own special version. — but there are basics that really must be there.  A general form of a brief may include:

Project description: why is this being done? Marketing objective- response? Awareness?

Situation analysis: background information, state of the market, customer buying habits, new product change, competitors? What have you done before, and with what result? Solid numbers are really important.

Audience: Age, hobbies, why they may want your product or service, have they owned an earlier version, etc. What is their perception of their need for your product?

How should this change the way your customer behaves? Every effort must change something – from generating more loyalty to turning the tide and getting them to buy from you!

How is your product or service differentiated from the competition? Is it stronger or weaker? Be honest with yourself and your creative team so they can be ready to address such issues.

Offer: What do you have in mind for an offer, and why do you feel that’s a good offer? Are you open to other offers? What is the time limit for the offer to be fulfilled? What must the customer do to take advantage of the offer?

How much per unit/sale of this product or service is expected… in the front end, and in the back end? This will likely determine whether this is a lead-generation effort, or a direct-selling effort.

What is the goal for the number of units/sales? This, with the budget, is key to what the creatives will actually do in the end to make your effort successful.

Deadline to either go to the newspaper, the blog, the website, the printer, or does this coincide with any special event?

Budget: How much do you have to spend on the total project including printing, mailing, creative, etc. *

* I know, this is tough. But, it’s good professionalism to identify your budget and give your team full advantage of it so they can work with you on how to spend it. And you may be surprised … your creative team may put more of your budget into the printing, and pay themselves less, just to make the project more successful.

Whew! Looks like a lot of work!
Who fills out this brief? And will anyone even read it?

This really should take less than an hour if you’re organized! Inside an agency, it’s usually written by the account planner and the client, who is interviewed by the account planner to create the form.

In a freelance environment, there are many iterations… if the client is knowledgeable (as you are now, for having read this article), they kick it off and fill in what they can as thoroughly as possible. Then they work with other managers involved in the project, and in the end, they ask the creative to discuss it to see if there’s missing information — sometimes this will show up through the creative’s questions and knowledge of what’s needed.

A less experienced creative may not even ask for a brief, and they may not realize what can go wrong when there is information missing. But you must do the brief anyway. It’s worth the time to write it, and make sure your creative team really ‘gets it’ before the project starts moving. This will help drive the project to greater success.

Is there anything else that helps a creative team to hit the mark more accurately?

You may have a trove of treasure for them … sales DVDs, sell sheets, database profiles, research results (as recent as possible), samples of prior efforts, current efforts, and brand rules including an FTP site with logos, colors, photos and any other resources you can provide. (Don’t let them in into the FTP site until you’ve made it clear on the brief what they are allowed to use.)

Time for kickoff!

Armed with this information, you are ready for a startup meeting with your creative team. And with this brief, the meeting will go faster, saving you some time. As you review the work in steps, compare what they are showing you to the brief so you all stay on track. The project will progress more smoothly, and you’re likely to have far superior an experience as well as an outcome you can all be proud of.


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