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A Creative Brief Is Your Guide, Not a Shackle

A Creative Brief is Your Guide

The art of writing a creative brief involves reduction: you want a simple, telegraphic idea from which the designer or creative team can start their work. But no matter how good that original brief may be, there is always the possibility that, as the team works on the project, the idea will evolve, and maybe become something quite different. And there needs to be room for that to happen.

No brief should be considered as carved in granite, unalterable and sacrosanct. A creative brief is the starting point for a conversation among the client, creative people and account service… and maybe consumers, account planners and other members of the client and agency groups. From that ongoing conversation, you may move from the starting idea to a different perspective that arose from research you did after the brief was written; a remark from someone in a focus group; or new competitive developments or insights.

Following are steps to treating the creative brief as flexible, but still your guiding star.

Discuss the problem as the client sees it, and then as the agency sees it. They may not be the same, which can shift the brief in a new, better direction.

Try to speak with the decision makers, who often can say exactly what issue the project needs to address. This saves creative churn through pursuing the wrong solution to a fuzzily stated problem.

Keep it brief. That’s the whole point of account planning and objectives-based planning—you want to narrow the focus to a single, simple insight or objective, so the creative team can dial in on specifics.

State it in plain English. Lose the jargon, set aside the reams of data and background, and focus on the core problem.

While the brief may change as you develop a project, keep the client’s objective in mind. Will changes to the brief result in not meeting the objective? How can you adjust to deliver? Discuss whether the objective is the right objective.

If the work evolves away from the original insight, revisit the brief and chart how you got from A to C. You’ll need to be able to walk the client through your thinking to ensure buy-in of the change. Possibly, the change in direction may indicate another project.

Don’t get caught up in your own brilliance. Seek feedback by running changes to the brief past team members, the creative director, the AE, agency principals, etc. What to you seems inevitable may to others appear to be completely off-track. If that happens, backtrack and begin again.

The creative brief should be your North Star—a steady guide by which you can orient your thinking. The journey you take may follow unexpected paths, but the brief should still lead you home. Enjoy the adventure.

See sample creative briefs in our Resources/Forms & Templates/Creative Forms.

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