How to Write a Compelling, Inspiring Creative Brief

Topics: Creative, Tools, Content Marketing, Management


Reading Time: 3 minutes

One of my favorite former bosses used to cover her walls in glossy print ads from high-end fashion magazines. It was advertising eye-candy. Walking into her office warranted long pauses at Hermes scarves, Chanel bags and Prada shoes. I loved it. Colorful, artistic, beautiful; it was easy to drift to another place.

In a mid zone-out moment, she asked me what the creative brief looked like behind each ad. What compelling information was brought to the creative team that inspired an idea? What did the creative kick-off meeting look like? Did the account team offer experiential tools to ground them in the mind and space of the brand? What goals were they trying to achieve and who were they trying to reach?

It was a career-changing moment. I realized that the dreaded brief I had to write for yet another men’s razor campaign was actually pretty important. It was in my hands to bring accurate and concise background information to the team, which would in turn inspire great work and wow my client. The ads we love, the ones that make us misty and the ones that make us laugh all started with a creative brief. What did it contain?

As an account person who has mostly worked in the agency environment, it’s my job to write kick-ass, rock-solid briefs. I’ve learned that while I have to impress my client, I also have to be an advocate for my team. The balance is important; it’s a combination of thick skin, voice and perseverance. The client manager must be adaptable and have a very clear understanding of the goal. I once went more than 27 rounds on a branding assignment, so deep-rooted patience is also pretty key.

The creative brief is relatively new to the Public Relations realm, but as agencies continue to diversify and enter the category of “full service,” graphic elements are an important tool to use across multiple platforms.

Some important principles when writing:

Remain Focused

Don’t send your team off in a bunch of different directions. Explorations, while awesome, can get a little out of hand. It’s your job to keep it reigned in and on time.

Keep it Succinct

Your brief should be just that: brief.

Outline the Situation

Allow your team to understand the “why” behind the work.

Give Parameters

I worked with an Art Director who managed to incorporate ninjas into every round-one sketch. Hilarious, but usually off-equity.

Define your Target and the Main Takeaway

Who are you talking to? What message do you want to resonate?

Outline Insights, Thought-Starters & Considerations

Arm your team with as much information as possible. It will make the work that much better.

Specify a Timeline

Deadline surprises are the worst. Establish a schedule up front so that everyone is held accountable.

Have Fun

An Account Director I worked with brought beer to every single creative kick-off. He scheduled meetings late in the day so it felt more like happy hour than a stressful to-do list. Encouragement leads to inspiration.

Be Real

Come to terms with the fact that you will very rarely – if ever – nail it in the first round.

When watching the Super Bowl this weekend and the Olympic Games next week, my inner advertising nerd will no doubt come out and not only rank a spot as good or bad (thank you AdAge for the pre-cursors), but I’m also going to wonder how that original briefing document was written. What was the process like to get to this point, the biggest stage of all, for brands to compete on?


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