How to Write a Creative Brief That Inspires Your Team

April 15, 2024

Learning how to write a creative brief might sound tedious, but it’s one of the most important aspects of creative collaboration. If you want to jump ahead and learn more about what a creative brief is, click here. If you want to understand the relationship between writing a brief and a finished project, follow us for a moment.

We’re all familiar with Italy’s Tower of Pisa. Did you know that a faulty foundation on soft ground resulted in the tower beginning its famous “lean” during the construction phase? The higher they built the tower, the more egregious the problems became.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to ancient structures. San Francisco’s tallest residential building, the Millenium Tower, was constructed in 2009 and has been sinking ever since. What’s making this $350 million dollar luxury property tilt like a modern-day Tower of Pisa? Once again, the culprit is an inadequate foundation on unstable ground.

When a project is fundamentally flawed from the onset, there is little you can do to correct it. You can add band-aids, such as the braces that were used in the past to limit the Tower of Pisa’s tilting. But the issues will likely persist, and you’ll never be able to get back the time and effort dedicated to your salvage mission.

Creative briefs are the foundation of every project. When your creative leadership is committed to putting in the resources to create strong briefs, you’ll experience more efficient timelines and better results. Problems might still arise, but they can be realigned thanks to the stability provided by the brief, rather than exacerbated by its fragility.

What Is a Creative Brief?

Creative briefs are one of the most effective tools available for creative management and keeping projects organized. More than just a set of instructions, they’re the measuring stick upon which all aspects of a project are evaluated. Here’s our full definition:

A creative brief is a concise document that outlines the key elements of a creative project. It defines the project's objectives, target audience, key messages, desired outcomes, and more, ensuring alignment among designers, writers, marketing teams, and clients. It helps creative professionals navigate the creative process, aligning the visions of both the client and the creative team.

Why Do You Need a Creative Brief?

Here are some reasons why many businesses use creative briefs:

  • To clarify objectives: Writing a brief can outline the specific goals and KPIs of a project, whether it's increasing brand awareness, driving sales, or launching a new product.
  • To align teams: Creative briefs ensure that everyone involved in the project, including clients, stakeholders, and creative teams, are on the same page for better collaboration
  • To guide creativity: Creative briefs provide guidelines and constraints within which creative ideas can flourish, including target audience, messaging, tone, etc.
  • To make work more efficient: Every hour invested in writing a brief has the potential to save you tons of time down the line.

The good news is that once you’ve developed an effective creative brief template, you can use it for all your briefs moving forward. 

When Do You Need a Creative Brief?

You typically need a creative brief when starting a project that requires creative input from multiple parties. Here is a list of projects that might require creative briefs:

  • Launching a new product or service
  • Rebranding initiatives
  • Advertising campaigns
  • Website development or redesign
  • Content creation
  • Event promotion
  • Packaging design
  • Social media campaigns
  • Print collateral
  • Email marketing campaigns
  • Video production
  • Product packaging design
  • Internal communications
  • Merchandise design
  • Experiential marketing campaigns
  • Digital marketing campaigns
  • Public relations campaigns
  • Environmental design
  • Branded content partnerships
  • Community engagement initiatives

What Is in a Creative Brief?

There has long been debate regarding the amount of detail to include when writing a brief. Some people in creative leadership favor multipage tomes, while others promote the power of a two-paragraph brief.

When it comes to detail, we recommend erring on the side of precision rather than abundance. 

Even when team members have questions regarding a lean brief, they can be addressed with productive conversations. The more conversations and professional boundaries you set throughout the process, the better the results. So, if your brief serves as a catalyst for a few chats, then it has served its purpose.

Too much detail, on the other hand, floods the brief and dilutes the essential points. After all, it’s difficult to identify a single-minded proposition or key objective in a 600-word brief.

Who Should Be Involved in a Creative Brief?

Everyone who will be involved with the project should be involved in writing a brief too. This could include project managers, producers, program managers, account managers, designers, strategists, copywriters, graphic designers, and videographers.

The level of collaboration can take a few different forms:

  1. Hold a brainstorming session where all relevant parties share their insights and help spur ideas for the brief.
  1. Develop a draft of the brief among key stakeholders and then hold a meeting with the larger group where input and suggestions can be shared.
  1. Have key stakeholders make a draft of the creative brief and then send it out to the larger group with an invitation to submit any revisions or updates.

What matters is that those who will be involved in the project have a chance to weigh in before the creative brief is set in stone. Presenting the brief cold turkey makes for less effective dialogue and can potentially leave people feeling disconnected from the project.

How to Write a Creative Brief

To write a creative brief, you need to keep information clear, objectives strong, and collaboration solid. Here are the elements you’ll need:

The Five Journalistic Ws

To ensure everyone is on the same page, your creative brief must, at minimum, contain the Five Journalistic Ws. These questions have been used for centuries to capture the core details of a story. They are:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?

Some readers might think the question “How?” is missing from this list. But, the “How?” of a creative brief comes when your team uses creative problem-solving to complete the project. The brief doesn’t tell creative teams how to solve the problem at hand, but instead gives them everything they need for them to come up with an innovative “How?”

The Problem That Needs to Be Solved

This is your chance to provide context and background info for your team. Here’s what you should include about your problem so your team of creative experts can come up with a solution: 

Define the Challenge Clearly

Begin by stating the issue in the simplest terms possible. Avoid industry jargon that might cloud understanding. You should aim to make the problem as accessible as possible to everyone involved in the project.

Provide Context

Give background information to help your team understand how the problem has evolved. This might include market trends, previous attempts to solve the issue, and any internal or external factors contributing to the problem.

Specify the Impact 

Detail how this problem affects your business or target audience. Understanding the problem's impact can ignite a sense of urgency and purpose, driving the creative team to invest fully in finding a solution.

The Audience You’re Targeting

Every exceptional project is tailored to a specific group of people. In this section, you’ll describe the target audience and share insights that will make it easier for your creative team to come up with solutions that resonate. Here are a few examples:

  • Demographics: Begin with basic demographic information such as age, gender, income, occupation, and education level.
  • Psychographics: This includes the audience’s values, interests, lifestyles, attitudes, motivations, and preferences.
  • Behaviors: Include information on the audience's buying behavior, brand interactions, online activity, and other relevant actions.
  • Pain points: Identify the challenges or problems your audience faces that your project could solve.
  • User personas: User personas are fictional characters created based on your audience research, helping you visualize the audience. Consider including one or two.
  • How they consume content: Detail the channels through which your audience prefers to receive information, whether it's social media, email, blogs, television, or others.

The Objective

In the creative brief, include what your project aims to achieve. This is the driving force behind all creative endeavors and ensures that the team's efforts are focused and aligned toward a common goal. Here’s how to effectively communicate the objective in your creative brief:

Be Specific and Measurable

Objectives should be clear and concise, with measurable outcomes. Instead of saying "increase brand awareness," specify "increase brand awareness by 20% among the target demographic within the next quarter." This clarity provides a tangible target for the team to aim for.

Focus on the Desired Outcome

The objective should focus on what you want to accomplish as a result of the project, whether it's driving sales, generating leads, improving customer satisfaction, or enhancing brand perception. Keep the focus on the end result rather than the process of getting there.

The Single-Minded Proposition (SMP)

In short, a single-minded proposition (SMP) is a distilled, compelling core message that encapsulates the essence of a brand, campaign, project, or product in a way that is both unique and persuasive.

In truth, it’s the one thing you want your audience to internalize. It’s the message that gets straight to the heart of the entire project or campaign. 

You’re probably asking “How is a single-minded proposition different from a tagline, slogan, or mission statement?”

The answer is, they’re not different.

Each of these examples fits within the category of a single-minded proposition. They support the core message of a brand while being distinct from everything else out there.

If you don’t have an SMP yet, realize that coming up with one can be a part of the creative execution. Not every brand will have one from the jump: they may only have an idea of why their customers choose them over competitors—which is the first step in distilling your SMP.

The Nitty-Gritty Details

This is where you can include the most relevant information about the project when writing a brief, including:

  • Ad specs
  • Fonts
  • Sizes
  • Colors 
  • Logo preferences 
  • Dos and don’ts
  • etc.

The Stakeholders

It’s crucial to establish decision-makers early on. This includes who on the client side will manage approvals, who on your team will manage communication, who will be leading the creative team, who will be dealing with feedback from the client, and which members of your team will be working hands-on with the project.

The Important Dates

Finally, you need to make your brief actionable by including a timeline. It’s important to update the brief to reflect the start date, various milestones throughout, and the final due date.

If you’re unsure which of these sections are most important for your team, start by talking with them. Ask what information they need to make their jobs easier and which sections would only cause confusion.

For a small internal team, a creative brief might only be half a sheet of paper long. However, the brief for a multi-team project would likely require more real estate to hold all the necessary details and analysis.

Creative Brief Examples

Here is a creative brief example for a hypothetical client, Sollumnia Technologies, a groundbreaking company specializing in solar-powered lighting solutions.

This creative brief includes everything Sollumnia’s creative team needs to get started, including the background of the problem down to the specs for the project.

Creative Brief Template

If you like that creative brief example, here is a sample creative brief you can use for your own projects.

Make a Copy

Go Forth and Write Your Creative Brief

Now that you’ve seen a couple of creative brief examples and have a clearer sense of the purpose of these documents, it’s time to begin writing a brief for yourself. Be sure to collaborate with your team on the creative brief as they’ll be able to offer insights you never would’ve otherwise considered.

If you need a platform that makes creative brief collaboration easy, you can use Punchlist

Punchlist is a creative collaboration tool that streamlines feedback, revisions, and the QA process. Just upload your creative brief and invite your team to leave their thoughts. 

You’ll get all of their feedback in one place so you don’t have to go searching through dozens of different Slack threads and email chains.

To get started, sign up for a 30-day free trial. If you don’t like it, that’s fine. 

But we don’t think that’s going to happen.