The Creative Brief

June 13, 2016

When you think “creative brief” you probably think “ad agency.” That would be a good association because creative briefs are a staple of most agencies. A good creative brief, however, is a vital document that should be done for every design project regardless of who’s involved, even if it’s an internal project, even if it only involves a freelancer.

Here are three reasons why you need a creative brief for every marketing project:


Designers can’t read your mind. You need to share everything you can about your creative needs to ensure nothing is missed during the process.

A good creative brief sets expectations for the project. It answers key questions such as:

  • What is the project?
  • Why are we doing the project?
  • What are we hoping to accomplish with the project?
  • What are the deadlines for the project?
  • What action do we hope the prospect will take after seeing it?

These are questions to answer before the project begins so the people on the design team can understand how this project fits into the big picture of your brand. Providing a creative brief also gives your internal or external contacts the opportunity to communicate with you about deadlines and priorities so you both know what’s possible.

You have to tell your design team what they need to know and set them up for success. In short, you have to set their expectations for what you are doing, how it will be done, and how much effort it will take to do it. A creative brief will help you do exactly that.


I recently had a client ask me to design two direct mail pieces to “test” the market, but they hadn’t done any brand work (it was a start-up) and they weren’t clear on their message or audience. Reluctantly, I agreed to do it and, when the pieces were designed, the client said, “I don’t get it.” If we had spent time putting together a creative brief, some of those questions would have been answered and the campaign would have been more effective.

Why wasn’t the piece more effective? Because it wasn’t geared to a specific audience. A marketing piece, whether or not it’s a brochure, will perform better if it is focused with a specific audience in mind. A good creative brief defines the audience for the project.

The brief should have a mini description of the ideal people you are targeting, what their interests are as they pertain to your product or service, and what their pain points are. The audience description should be robust enough to put a clear picture of the prospect in everyone’s mind. Then the designer can go out and create a project that’s most appropriate for the audience you want to reach.


Ask yourself, “Why are we doing this?” If a definitive answer doesn’t materialize, you shouldn’t proceed with the project. Why? Because you need to establish if your effort is to gain brand awareness or sales conversion, first, and then design around the message to support the mission. You need to be clear on the difference so you can build accordingly; otherwise, it will be confusing—to your designers and your audience.

A good creative brief is far more than a checklist or a “cut and paste” document. It sets the tone for your team and your brand. Ideally, it should start the brainstorming process and get the creative juices flowing, and it should help ensure everyone is working toward the same goal. The long and short of it is that a creative brief is necessary for guaranteed results and we all want a few of those, right?