We teamed up with Tyler Rochwerg — Senior Brand Manager of a Fortune 50 skincare company— to identify the must-haves for a creative brief that’ll truly inspire creatives’ best work.
“What makes a creative brief…good?” is an age-old question among agencies, creatives, and cross-functional teams.
If you’re the owner of a creative brief, you’re the first runner in a relay race — and the information you include can make (or break) your next campaign or project. But wielded correctly, a successful creative brief is something you’re proud to hand off. It minimizes the friction of onboarding a new partner, all while providing a blueprint for better collaboration and creativity.
Creatives need certain info to color within the lines and come up with campaigns that (a) are fresh, intriguing, and buzz-worthy and (b) are going to exceed client expectations — not just meet them.
So, we spoke to Tyler Rochwerg, Senior Brand Manager of a Fortune 50 skincare company, to get his take on what sets a decent creative brief apart from a truly great one.
First, let’s start with three things a truly great creative brief is NOT:
Within every creative brief, there are non-negotiables. Without these elements, you’ll leave creatives confused, which in turn makes more work for your team to smooth things over, explain concepts in the kickoff, and generally leads to a rockier start on your next project.
Tyler oversees 20+ vendors and manages brand partnerships plus his company’s content ecosystem across organic and influencer. When it comes to a half-baked brief, he’s seen it all.
“The most annoying part of the process is when you have conflicting opinions on the brief internally. [You] need to present a really strong unified ask to the agencies or else they'll sense a lack of focus and it'll show in the work,” said Tyler.
Let’s get into each element:
Before you can get tactical, the creative brief needs to zoom out on why you’re kicking off the what. This section in the creative brief includes three parts:
The overview gives a short summary of what you’re briefing in — for example, is it a website rebrand? A design project? A commercial or package of video cutdowns?
If you can’t articulate what the project is at its core in a sentence or two, that’s a sign you need further alignment internally before briefing out to an agency or independent creative.
These are your goals and KPIs. You need to be able to answer questions like:
Tyler stresses the importance of presenting a united front with your project objectives:
“[It] all starts with a clear business objective. I've seen so many briefs that list multiple objectives and key messages that it will make it tough for the agency and even tougher for the consumer to grasp your message… Focus on one single message. It's annoying, but that's because it's difficult. And it's difficult because it's important.”
This is an overview of the brand or client, and where this project will fall on an org chart. For example, does your project need to loop in Customer Lifecycle Marketing versus Design? Where the chips fall is an important element of a creative brief, especially if you’re looping in multiple internal or external teams.
This is where you get into the nitty gritty of your entire brand. Your ethos, mission statement, reasons-to-be, and who your target customers are — that’s all welcome in this section of the brief. There are a number of parts to this:
Who are you trying to reach with this project? What are their interests, preferences, and behaviors?
Understanding your target audience will help you create a brief that speaks to them and resonates with their needs and desires. This can include demographic and psychographic information, like their age, their job titles, or the kinds of media they consume.
Key messaging is a godsend to creatives. It’s the answer to the question, “Why should my target audience CARE?” Without that, whatever work you produce is bound to fall flat.
This can be tricky to get right, especially with tons of stakeholder input to sift through. But, key messaging is all about empathy toward the user or customer. It’s an exploration of the problems your target audience faces, and how that problem affects them on a day-to-day basis.
If this project is in support of a product launch, you may want to link to helpful product demos or your roadmap so that it’s clearly visible what you’re building. List out the benefits and features of your products, tools, and services to establish your value proposition.
You should be able to summarize in a sentence or two what your brand voice sounds like. If you have an official style guide, share it!
These materials help copywriters pick up your style faster, so they can crack away at those copy deliverables without having to ask questions like: “Do y’all use em dashes or en dashes?” or “How do you stylize numbers greater than 10?”
The creative brief needs to quickly outline the competitive landscape and answer questions like:
This is also a good spot to highlight brands who really do things well — whether that’s ad campaigns your team admires or a website redesign you really hate. This gives your agency a gradient of what you like versus dislike in the market.
With the “what” and the “who” answered, you can tackle everyone’s favorite part: execution and distribution. This is where things get fun, and your creative partner can do what they do best — get creative. There are several prongs to this:
Sometimes a campaign can have a more theoretical CTA. For example, a brand awareness campaign — like a new microsite or a rebrand — is designed to change consumer thoughts and shape opinion about your brand, which can be harder to measure outright but has a big impact in the future.
Other CTAs will be an exact next-step for the user, like downloading an asset to collect their email address, or a trial for your product.
You’re aligned on the project overview, why it matters for the target audience, and have given the full update on your brand’s mission. With all that in mind, you can collaborate with the agency or vendor to draft a full list of deliverables for the scope of your project.
Outline the smallest of tasks in your list of deliverables, even if it’s just a social cutdown of a longer video asset, or wireframes for new website pages in build. Your list of deliverables needs to be as close to exact as possible to avoid scope creep. Need taglines, website copy, captions? That all gets listed here.
The worst thing is when you’ve made incredible, portfolio-worthy creative work only for it to never see the light of day. It’s basically content purgatory. Your distribution plan matters a lot, because how you distribute can greatly impact the success of your efforts.
A shortlist of distribution channels:
Here’s where you list out who all will be involved in the project from start to finish. There are tons of ways to do this, like the popular DACI model:
According to Tyler, the single most important element of a great creative brief is outlining your budget. Budget transparency gives your agency partner a true idea of what they can pitch, and shows how much you value their work.
A decent brief might have a due date. A better brief has a timeline, marked by phases that delineate when exact deliverables will be delivered. Whether it’s 6 weeks or 6 months, it’s just fact that creative people do better on a deadline.
When drafting your timeline, be realistic and pad some cushioning to curb overwork and burnout, which is prevalent among creatives. Timelines establish expectations and are a clear marker of when something isn’t working or blocked.
Remember, the difference between an annoying, hard-to-execute-on creative brief and something that empowers your team to create great work starts from within your org. Before committing pen to paper, you need to be fully aligned on the purpose that project or campaign will serve — and how it’ll move the needle of progress.
“Our job as marketers is to clear the fog for the cross functional teams and help consumers really see a single-minded message of what [a] product is about,” said Tyler.
And in a work-world where creative collaboration is more fragmented than ever — scattered across dozens of tools, sheets, docs, platforms, and apps — the humble creative brief reminds us that building great projects doesn’t have to be complicated.
Just one document can inspire better work and smoother creative collaboration. That’s the beauty of the well-crafted creative brief.