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Five tips for a great creative brief

Tuesday 7 January 2020

Connor Gibbs's picture
By Connor Gibbs

The US organisation ANA (Association of National Advertisers) last year released a detailed report about the effectiveness of creative briefs in advertising.

One of the headlines is that there’s a disparity between how effectively clients think they brief, vs what the receiving agency thinks about the brief’s effectiveness. 58% of clients think they are doing a good job (not a very confident figure in itself) but only 27% of agencies agree.

Some might say the message was a little defensive, putting the onus on clients to brief right in order for ad agencies to reach their full creative potential. And of course, with the enormous cost of a major brand above the line campaign, there’s plenty of scope in the big-bucks world of international advertising to invest time and effort in a detailed brief – you might not have that for your campaigns.

But there are useful insights for us all. The ANA summarises the briefing challenge in a way that can apply for creative briefs of all scales and types. They describe the ideal client brief as providing “guardrails not handcuffs”.

That means being clear about your objectives, target audience, media, channels, messaging, products or services, brand guidelines and budget.

But don’t be prescriptive about the creative itself and don’t micro-manage the designer or creative agency. You’ve hired them for their expertise and because you trust them – so let them get on with their expert job.

Here are our five top tips for effective creative briefs:

1. Have a flexible form
Many organisations have a proforma briefing template. It’s a good idea to make sure basics aren’t missed, but it can also create needless admin and miss the point. Different creative briefs need different information. We think it’s better practice to have a wide-ranging list of questions or topics that you can add to whenever you want, but to include only those that are relevant to the particular brief.

2. Narrow your focus
Product and marketing managers can be evangelical about their product. They don’t want a single benefit to be missed out in a communication or creative. But this can lead to a brief being woolly and unfocused. By all means provide wider brand background, but prioritise the one or two key messages or attributes you want this campaign to communicate.

3. Provide digestible background
Most of the time, you have a wealth of information about your brand, products and services. The designer or agency will likely be starting from a lower base of knowledge and need to familiarise themselves rapidly. Sometimes, their distance from your internal perspective can be an advantage. So don’t overface them with dozens of loosely connected documents, slide decks and examples. Try to pick the key materials and resources they need, so they can absorb important information fully. You can always follow up with more detail if needed.

4. Use simple language
Your brief is most likely to communicate what you want if you use clear, straightforward language. Cut out corporate jargon and acronyms. Avoid technical terms or scientific and academic research commentary*. If you need to include this type of detail, put it into layman’s language first. If you struggle to do that, the designer isn’t likely to grasp it either.

5. Include customer insight
Creative campaigns need to engage your customers. So share research headlines and insights that give your designer an understanding of what customers currently think and feel about your product, what they would like to know, how they use or value what you provide. Direct quotes are great.

You can download the full ANA white paper “Better Creative Briefs” by signing into the ANA website.

Guardrails not handcuffs: how to strike the balance between clear and prescriptive.

Five tips for a great creative brief