Establishing process and using a creative brief are preventive medicine.
It’s about best practices. It’s about doing what works best for creatives, the ones asked to amp up your brand message. It’s about getting things done with the strategy you’ve requested in a way that cuts through all the noise and gets heard.
If you’re an operations person, you may have seen that amazing Netflix presentation and that one slide that says, “You focus on great results rather than on process.” You might think this is all bullshit. That it’s much ado about nothing. That’s fine. But having the skeleton of a process is what allows creative teams—and anyone doing collaborative work—to focus on great results. The only other options are tyranny or anarchy. Neither one is all that efficient. Process is the thing that democratizes … the process.
That’s exactly why you use a creative brief. That’s exactly why you employ a standard (meaning, sane) creative process. So the creatives can focus on great results—not on corporate or agency politics, not on researching the audience or formulating a strategy, and definitely not on wasting their time in meetings and discussions needed to put out fires that could have easily been prevented in the first place.
Only you can prevent agency fires. And when you do group-based, collaborative creative work, you get great results by making sure all parties are on the same page.
There is a moment in every wedding where the parties involved must say, “Yes, I do,” or otherwise agree to the contractual relationship they are joining. The creative brief and the kickoff represent this moment between agency and creative team.
Everyone should speak up now, or forever hold their peace. But either way, everyone should know what’s happening and why.
When you manage this moment correctly, it’s completely fluid. It’s gears whirling. It just goes. It won’t even need to be discussed. It’s a background app. It’s a clock.
The Creative Brief Is the Contract
The creative brief is the contract for the work you are hiring a creative team to do. It doesn’t matter how big or small that creative team is. It doesn’t matter how closely they work with The Client. Unless it’s a pitch, there should be a creative brief.
You wouldn’t buy a car without a written contract. Or a house. And, most likely, you wouldn’t take a job without one side wanting to have a signed contract or employment agreement in place.
Why? Because those things are big investments of time, energy, and money. And your agency, specifically your creative team, is being hired to do a job.
Yes, everyone is doing a job. Yes, the account or strategy team that’s been partnered with you has done a great job understanding your problems and coming up with solutions. Now, you and your strategic partners need to hand off the baton to the creative team.
And everyone needs to cover their ass.
As any lawyer can explain better than me, contracts protect both parties from future problems and misgivings. You simply shouldn’t buy any creative work without a contract in place. And you shouldn’t do any creative work without that contract in place. Otherwise, you’re both being set up to fail.
That contract is the creative brief. If you’re a client without a creative brief, how do you know exactly what you’re purchasing? What do you point to later and say, “This is what I said I wanted!”
If you’re a creative, without a creative brief, how do you know exactly what you’re being asked to create? What do you look at later and say, “This is what you wanted.”
Young agencies often think an SOW is enough. An SOW is fantastic. It is the other component necessary for client signature before you fully kickoff a project.
The SOW is the window sticker on the car. It’s a starting place for a price estimate, unless agreeing to a flat fee.
But the SOW doesn’t say where the car needs to go. It doesn’t give direction for the work that needs to be done, it doesn’t define the strategy behind that work, and it doesn’t provide a road map for solving your communication problem.
Your SOW is a price tag for the car. It itemizes the work to be done and the costs.
Your creative brief is the road map for where your brand is going. It gives the direction on how to do the work, what it should look like, how it should sound, how it should behave out in the world, and how you want others to behave after experiencing that brand communication.
It’s the assembly instructions for the shiny, new, custom toy you’re going to build.
Primary Reasons to Use a Creative Brief
The macro reason to do it is for the good of the project and to protect everyone involved. But, there are three primary, immediate reasons to use a creative brief on your next project.
1. Set the Target
Again, set the direction. Again, prevent the crazy. Prevent the anxiety, prevent the stress, and prevent the problems that can be prevented.
Outline the strategy, any existing creative direction, and distill the background information necessary for the task at hand.
Let the creatives focus on the creative work, please.
2. Filter and Summarize as Concisely as Possible
The creative brief is the most important piece of the process puzzle. It should encapsulate all strategic thought and filter it into The Single Directive, or some such title with a one-sentence statement defining the creative task in a way that directly connects with the brand, project, campaign, or product strategy.
Creatives are busy people working on multiple projects. And that’s just at home. At work, it can be even worse. It’s certainly not any better for client brand or digital teams, all of which have recently seen staff levels drop while workloads continue to increase.
Companies are doing more with less. Agencies are doing more with less. That means people have less time and fewer resources to support them. Everyone has to work harder and smarter. All the time.
The world is a busy place. It’s drowning us in tasks and information. But we all put up with it to pay for our housing, feed our children, and maintain our lofty lifestyles.
No one has time to read your 15-page creative brief. The creative brief needs to be the CliffsNotes version of the market, brand, or digital problem at hand along with the strategic solution and deliverables. It should not be longer than two or three pages.
3. Provide a Universal Reference Point
At all points in the process moving forward, whenever someone related to the project has any sort of question about the how, why, and what of the project, the creative brief should be the focal point to return attention to, time and time again.
It is the Rosetta Stone, the codebook, for work being done. It should be the keystone for the entire project.
This is a sample chapter from So You’re a Client.
Sign up to learn more about standard creative process and get updates on the print release.
(Spam is super lame. We know. We won’t spam you.)