How NOT To Write a Creative Brief

The Things to Avoid When Writing a Creative Brief

Colleagues working together in boardroom
••• Westend61 / Getty Images

Advertising experts throughout the ages have said it; the creative brief is the foundation of an advertising campaign. If you start with a solid brief, written with care on the back of hard work, research and dedication to the client’s problem, you’ll do well. On the other hand, if you start with a shoddy, half-hearted brief that takes neither the client nor the creative department, into consideration, you are doomed to fail.

The creative brief will never, ever disappear. The advertising industry will change and diversify; the media will change, the very landscape will become unrecognizable. But advertising campaigns will always start with a brief, and the better it is, the better the outcome for your agency, and your client.

In the past, articles have looked at the correct ways to write a brief. However, sometimes it’s just as relevant to look at the wrong ways to do something. Here are some common mistakes that account managers, and even account directors, make when preparing a brief. Avoid these, and you’re halfway to a great brief.

Don’t Provide Too Much Information

This may seem counter-intuitive. After all, the more the creative team knows about a product or service, the better their ideas will be, right? Well, yes, but this is not the place to do that heavy lifting. The brief needs to be just that – brief. You can put all of the great research you’ve done in the supporting documents you provide. But if you hand over a 28-page brief to a creative team, they’re not going to like you very much. Keep it short, cover the main benefits, and let them do their own digging in the research you provide.

Don’t Ignore The Client

Before you write a brief, you will meet with the client several times, and also exchange emails and phone calls. The purpose of this is preparation. You want to get as much information out of the client before you begin to write. It’s your job to condense this, weed out the unnecessary information, and provide clear direction. But as well all know, some things can get lost in translation. The client needs to see the final brief before you deliver it to the creative department. Get them to sign off on it, or ask what needs to be changed.

If the client doesn’t agree with the brief, what are the chances that they’ll agree with the work that came out of it?

Don’t Give Every Part of the Brief Equal Weight

Every creative brief is different. Your agency may have ten sections in its brief. Others may have six or seven. But one thing that’s the same across the board is weight; you must spend more time on some parts of the brief than others. Most of the time, the introduction, deliverables and timing can be trotted out quickly. The tone of voice, target demographic, that takes a lot more time. You may need the creative department to weigh in on that. And the single-minded proposition, that will usually take the most time.

Some account managers spend more time on the SMP than the rest of the brief combined. This is the flag you’re placing in the sand; the “x marks the spot” for the creative team. It needs the most weight.

Don’t Rush It

You are not saving time by quickly throwing together a creative brief in order to give the creative team more time to work on it. Actually, you’re wasting time. A poorly written brief will cause problems from the get-go. Most likely, if the brief isn’t nailed down, the creative work will be off target and you’ll have to go back to the drawing board. So not only will you have wasted everyone’s time, you’ll still have to write a decent brief. All you have done is delay the inevitable.

Don’t Ignore Research and Focus Groups​

There is a time and a place research and focus groups. And that time is before you start working on a campaign. After the fact, when the work is done, you may be tempted to “test” the ads with focus groups. That, almost always, is a complete waste of time. But beforehand, you can use these consumer insights to focus your brief. For example, the Old Spice “The Man You Man Could Smell Like” ads came from the following consumer insight – “wives and girlfriends are more likely to buy men’s body wash than are men.” This lead to a campaign that was wildly successful.

Get your insights and give them to the creative team; they will turn them into pure gold.

Don’t Email the Brief and Hope For the Best

As offices become paperless, a nasty trend has started to develop. Account managers are writing briefs, editing them, and getting them to a great place. Then, they email it to the creative teams and say “any questions, drop me a line.” No. A thousand times, no. The creative briefing process requires human interaction. Any good creative team will have questions as you’re taking them through the brief. They will want to know information that is either not contained in the brief or is simply a little too vague for their liking.

They will also want to pick your brains. If you skip this part, you are doing the entire agency a disservice. Even if you can’t meet face to face, call the team. A 20-minute kick-off meeting can save hours of back and forth later on.