How to Write a Creative Brief

by Nov 13, 2014
Creative Brief

As a planner JB knows how important it is to produce the right creative brief. Here she gives you her top 10 tips for success: 

Ahh the creative brief. The holy grail. The most sacrosanct document a planner will ever produce (arguably). The creative springboard and perpetual reference point for creative work. 

….Also, something that often gets bashed out in 30 minutes then thrown to the creative team like a grenade, lacking half the information it needs and without adequate thought.

So I thought I’d take a minute to give 10 pieces of advice that I’ve learnt over the last few years about writing the creative brief:

1) The brief should be brief.
Be succinct with the information you put in: not everything you read or know needs to be included. Find a specific focus and leave out any information that is not salient or relevant. Try to condense the most important information on one page. This CAN be done! Remember the quote “Had I had more time I’d have written a shorter letter”, and take time to go back over what you’ve written and trim.

2) A planner is not an island.
I sometimes fall fowl of this, especially when there’s little time to write the brief. But it really shouldn’t be written alone. The client team, the creative directors, the research folk (if you have that function at your agency) should all have their input. Bouncing thoughts and ideas off other people helps me no end, and we all need to allocate the time to do this when writing a brief. Maybe planners should come in teams…?

Creative Brief 1

3) Take time to do your research.
Yes, planning is part art part science, but too many times I’ve had to go on gut feel purely because I haven’t had the time or resource needed to find out the actual facts. This can be where natural instinct is allowed to thrive – which in my eyes is a good thing – but it should be aided by as much knowledge as possible. Someone once said the best planners are the ones that have all the information on a given subject. Hunt, read, listen, absorb. Make sure you have the answers.

4) Know the brand.
I mean, duh. But don’t just know what the product USP is or what the overarching objectives are (both of these are essential!) – but you need to know the process by which the product is made, the brand’s heritage, it’s purpose, it’s ‘best self’ (the thing it’s best at in the world), who it would be if it was a person etc etc etc. You need to easily be able to rattle off fact after fact about the brand, or you don’t know it well enough.

Creative Brief 2

5) Bring the audience to life.
‘They’re females aged 18-55’ isn’t going to help anyone. Although sometimes, the demographic is good to be aware of, it’s the attitudinal information that really helps the creative team get into the mindset of the audience. This is one of my all-time favourite examples, from the creative brief for Vicks Vaporub – a product aimed at anyone with a cold.

Cold sufferers. You know how you feel when you’ve got a cold—that pathetic little inner-child of yours suddenly wakes up and, before you know it, you’re moaning & whining, you’ve gone all whiney & wimpy, all snivel, snot & slovenly; red raw puffy eyes, pale skin, lank hair—everything seems to be sagging! You feel like something from a Salvador Dali painting; you want to snuggle up in bed and dammit—you want your Mummy! But it’s not fair, is it, because no one else takes your suffering seriously—”Good God, pull yourself together, man, we’re not talking leprosy here! Don’t be such a baby, get on with it, stop moaning!”

Yes, your instincts tell you to be a child, but you’re not allowed to because you’ve “only” (only!) got a cold. And worse still—oh, the cruel irony!—even your attempts to retain your adulthood in the midst of your suffering betrays that sniveling little inner–child of yours: “oh don’t worry about me, I’ll be all right…”, “…no, no, please, I don’t want to sound like a martyr…”, “…well, I’m feeling a little better now, thank you…”

I’m sorry, but when you’ve got a cold you’re doomed to be a Child–Adult.

6) Nod to the competition
When you know where you sit in the market, you start to understand what you need to do to pull yourself further away from the competition. Maybe you need to dial up the emotional connection? Maybe you need to find a different passion platform (e.g Red Bull do energy sports, as do their rival Monster. It’s very hard to see any real differentiation)? Maybe you need to focus in on an audience that your competitors are neglecting? Do your homework and you’ll find that the added knowledge gives you a new perspective on the situation. Don’t just limit this to other brands in your sector, but also to ‘comparators’ – brands you can borrow thinking from (eg a premium soft dink looking at alcohol brands).

7) The proposition
Yes, it’s a bitch to write. Why? Because if it was easy planners would have far less time on their hands. The proposition is what the brief hinges on. It’s arguably the only thing creatives really look at – therefore it needs to be right. Directive, but not written so that you’ve pretty much written the ad for them. It should be single-minded (just one thought, not a convoluted sentence). I have a rule that there should be no punctuation, because you can’t have more than one thought without punctuation (with some rare exceptions). The prop is a summation of what should be a very tight brief, and should link to all the preceding information about the brand, market and audience. It should also be a revelation: so beautifully simple and obvious that you go ‘of course!’. Some examples include: ‘John Smith’s, the no-nonsense beer for the no-nonsense beer drinker’, and ‘it’s not about the pages, it’s about the people’ (a yellow pages proposition).

Creative Brief 3

8) Planners can be creative too.
In our brief there’s a section for thought-starters. This gives the planner a chance to suggest some ideas that have come to them over the few days it’s taken to write the brief. Some people think that they don’t have to go there – that’s the job of the creatives and them alone – but there’s no reason planners can’t make their thoughts known, however rough they are.

9) The briefing is as important as the brief.
I’ve seen briefings given in the past where a 3 sided document is read through word by word. I’ve probably even done this myself when I’ve been unprepared! You may as well just email the brief to the creatives and ask them to read it. I’ve also given briefings where I’ve taken the time to gather materials, stimuli and inspiration, and taken a full hour to brief using videos and findings from focus groups and quotes from the brand manager. These have always inspired the team more, made them excited to get going, and have produced better work. The briefing is such a huge part of the process, don’t assume your job is done when the brief is written.

10) Don’t lock the brief away.
From this point on, the creatives will be busy ideating and you’ll be pulled in for WIPs along the way. Have a copy of that brief in your hand every time you discuss their work. It’s an objective reference point for you to judge whether their ideas will work, and do the job they need to do. At this stage it’s crucial that strategy and creative work closely – and the brief can help hugely with this.

Words by – Jo Birch

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