February 13, 2012 Jason

Save Time and Money with a Creative Brief

If you’re providing your clients with any kind of creative freelance service without a creative brief, you’re doing it wrong.  You might be wasting your time and your client’s money, and that’s not a strategy for effective long-term relationships.

(If you’re just here to find a creative brief template to use for your next project, you can find my current form right here.  Feel free to use it or modify it to meet your needs.)

The creative brief is the skeleton upon which your project will be built. The stronger the brief, the better the creative.

The creative brief is the skeleton upon which your project is built. The stronger the brief, the better the creative.

What is a Creative Brief?

A creative brief is a fairly simple document in principle; it’s a summary of the main points a project needs to incorporate into the final design.  But it’s much more than that.  It’s the document you can refer to stay on strategy, and it helps you determine the project’s scope with your client. The more detailed a brief is, the more effective your copy or design can be and the better it will work for your client.  You can deliver better results faster by starting with this simple document, and it’s a great way to build your portfolio, client list, and rates.

What should be in a Creative Brief?

There are a few main points that a productive brief should hit:

  • Who is the target audience?  The copy or design you’re creating should be effective for a specific demo or psychographic group.  The more specific you and the client can be here, the more effective your end product.
    •  For example: Client requests copy for ad placement in a magazine. They want the copy to be useful for everyone, since their product is perfect for everyone (yes, I know – aren’t they all?)  But since the ad you’re building is going to be in a magazine with a demo that is primarily married women, aged 35-50, median income of $100K, and geographically located in northern California – writing something that pleases everyone isn’t going to be as effective as writing an ad that speaks directly to this audience.  Instead of being an ad that bores the reader, an effective brief can help you create something that the reader can relate to.  And this is a much better use of your client’s ad budget.
  • What is the primary message?  What specifically is your client trying to say in this space?  Is the project’s purpose to build the brand or is it to sell more widgets?  Is it to engage an audience in social media or attract more readers to a specific feature?  When your client knows what the message is, you can use this to make something that nails it on the first try.
  • What are the deliverables needed? While this looks small, it’s pretty important.  If your client thinks you’re going to deliver ad copy, site design, and a custom template, and you’re thinking that you only need to deliver ad copy – you’re going to see there’s a pretty big disconnect before you even start the project.  Clearly outlining the deliverables here will help prevent the dreaded scope creep down the road.
  • What is the desired tone/voice for this project?  This is critical to help you create the product.  If you know the right tone, you’ve got a much better chance of delivering the right design with a minimum of revisions.
    • For example: On a project without a brief, you might not know that your client is looking for something with a more serious/professional tone.  Your delivery of a cute design/funny copy might not be met with the reception you were hoping for.  Best case, you get to do another design – possibly for free.  Worst case, you lose the project and the client.
  • What is the Call to Action? While this might be more relevant for writers/web designers, it’s pretty important for any project.  The CTA is not quite the same as the primary message, but oftentimes your client might confuse the two.  An effective CTA is a clear direction as to what you want the target audience to do.  Click the Like Button.  Tweet this message.  Buy Now.  Call Now.  If your ad doesn’t have a CTA, chances are it’s an expensive – and not very effective – article.
  • Are there any project mandatories?  While this seems pretty obvious, it’s a huge timesaver for your projects.  It’s saved my ass a few times, as there are some things that might get edited out to ensure the copy stays on target for a specific word count, but upon review of the brief, I am reminded that they are required to be there.  Some of the more common ones are specific phone numbers/email addresses, mention of specific associations/dates, etc.  A quick review of the brief can save you a revision, and that’s a very good thing.

You can include additional information in your brief, and as you progress in your freelance career, you’ll have a better understanding of what to ask and what to look for in briefs submitted by your clients.

In my experience, projects that have a creative brief have allowed me to create better copy, faster, and with minimal (if any) revisions required.  I think they might help you, too.

Here’s a copy of the brief I’m currently using.  Feel free to download and modify it to fit your needs.

If you’re currently using a brief for your projects, what are the biggest benefits for you and your clients?

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