By Published On: September 20, 2021

Ah, the humble creative brief. It’s an important tool in every agency’s tool belt, but it can take many different forms. Having worked at several agencies over the course of my career, I’ve seen almost as many versions as there are colors in a PMS book.

This, by the way, does not include the generally useless creative briefs I’ve seen submitted by clients. This is not meant to be a dig on clients—it’s not their job to provide a brief that works for the agency’s creative team. That’s the agency’s job.

Some creative brief formats are developed by account people. Others by high-up muckity-mucks in corner offices. And still others by creative directors themselves. Some are the length of the Declaration of Independence. Others are one or two pages. I once worked with a creative director who thought his team only needed an 8-word brief. (This, IMO, was not a real creative brief, but some other exercise in creativity that I’ll never understand).

All of this is to say that, at this point in my career, I can confidently state “I know how to write a really useful creative brief.”

Notice I didn’t say “pretty” or “comprehensive” or even “client-approved”? I said “useful”. Because, at the end of the day, that’s what really matters. If it’s not useful, then you’re just wasting everyone’s time. And I think we could all agree that with the invention of smart phones and social media, we already have enough time wasters to contend with in our lives.

The good news is that writing a useful creative brief isn’t really that hard.

In essence, it’s an overview of the problem a creative team needs to solve (the reason a client hires us in the first place), plus the details everyone on the team needs to know. What it’s not is a regurgitation of every conversation that’s been had with a client or a bunch of bullet points from their website. It should include thoughts and ideas and general creative direction that have been gleaned through various meetings and documents, but the creative solution itself (both visuals and copy) should come from the creative team.

The best way to get that from the team is to provide the basic facts, including objectives, goals, audience definition, key messages, brand rules, deliverables, success metrics, budget, and timing. It should be succinct, but complete. With no fluff. 

If you’re curious, here’s the general template we use when writing creative briefs. It might help our clients understand why agencies ask the questions we ask, and it certainly helps us do our best possible work.

So, if you’ve got a marketing problem, make sure your agency writes a useful creative brief. From there, the solution will magically appear. 😉

About the Author: Danette Knickmeier

Danette Knickmeier
The number of hats Danette wears at the agency rivals the number of toppings you can put on a pizza. Now seven years into her second residency at cat&tonic, she enjoys putting her many talents to use, including (but not limited to) account services, project management, strategic planning, copy and content writing, general operations, and snack ordering. Her wicked planning skills and natural ability to keep projects on task—without annoying all parties involved—make her our go-to, get-it-done person. Danette’s first stint at [c&t] lasted six years before she got the itch to try on a few larger agencies for size. She grew professionally and made several life-long friends in those days, but she missed the small agency vibe and was eagerly welcomed back by her life-long [c&t] friends.
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