Mar 04

A Guide to Creative Briefs: 10 essential tips to inspire creatives


By Rina Mallick

Creative people are an opinionated bunch. We design and meticulously critique our work every day, so we’re quick to critique everything around us. We are trained to notice the smallest details and tweak our work until we reach pixel-perfection euphoria. You may think moving a headline a millimeter to the left doesn’t matter, but art directors and writers will literally lose sleep over it.

That’s the kind of passion you want to pull out of your team when you kick off a project. Do it right and your creative team will put their heart and soul into it. So inspiring creativity and achieving better quality has to start at the beginning. That is the brief.


 1. Enthusiasm

Be excited when you present the brief to your team. If you’re not passionate about the project, Creatives won’t be either. It’s that simple. And remember, you’re talking to creative people–so bring visuals, handouts and examples that will get the juices flowing.


2. Kick off

Kick off a project by setting up a meeting with everyone who will be working on it. You know what happens when you play the telephone game, right? Don’t let that happen to your project.

Everyone on the team brings a unique perspective, so hash it all out together in the beginning. It will help you avoid roadblocks later in the process. Not everyone has to be involved in every meeting, but it is important to kick things off on the right foot. This allows everyone to ask questions, get inspired and form a plan of action.


3. Assignment

Simplicity is key. Clearly state what it is we’re making and the primary goal of the project. “We’re creating a website to build awareness for a new flavor of ice cream for brand x.”

The brief acts as a checklist for the entire team. We use it to make sure all deliverables are met and on point with the goal. Whether it’s a multi-page site or a direct mail piece with different versions, each page or version should be listed out separately to ensure all the individual goals are satisfied with their own set of messages, functionality and calls to action. Every deliverable should be accounted for and explained in the assignment.



Paint a vivid picture for the Creatives. Age, sex and basic demographics are great, but psychographics are the icing on the cake. Help yourself by helping us really understand the way the audience thinks and feels.

What are they interested in? What types of sites do they visit? Which books and movie genres do they like? What would influence them to buy our product? The more Creatives know, the more it will show in the work.


5. The facts

You must give your creative team some key proof points to leverage.

Why would a consumer pick this product over another? What are the key differences? What are the product claims? Are there any 3rd party rankings or customer testimonials? Who are the competitors and what are they doing?


6. Primary message

The primary message is the most important section in the brief. It will be the one thing you want consumers to walk away with after engaging with your website, ad, Facebook page etc.  It will be the outline for the entire concept and inform the headline and main messaging of the piece.

A lot of briefs contain a bulleted list of messages, but there can only be one primary. Leave the bullets for your supporting information and secondary messages.


7. Primary CTA and measurement

Every piece needs a call to action. What do you want your consumers to do after engaging with it? Visit a website? Write a review? Call a number? Sign up for email communications? Every aspect of the piece needs to lead consumers to a path of action so we can measure the success of the project with real data and metrics.


 8. Assets

A blank canvas is great but we need the paint and brushes to do our job. Before the creative team can start developing they need access to assets.

Fonts, brand guidelines, logos and approved photos are all necessary to maintain brand consistency. If there are other agency partners involved, Creatives will need to see the pieces they are developing so the entire campaign is consistent. Getting all of this up front will avoid more work down the line. The client looks at everything as a whole, and so should your team.


 9. Schedule

Include a schedule in the brief to set expectations internally and with the client. It will help everyone stay on track, manage changes and resource the project.

How many concepts do we need to present?  Are we presenting sketches or fully designed comps at the concept phase? What will round 2 and 3 include? How many rounds of revisions will we allow the client to make? How many days will we give them to provide feedback?  Are there vendors involved? When do we need to include them in the process? It is important to map out and manage each phase so everyone on the team understands what is expected and can manage his or her schedule accordingly.


 10. Budget

Set the budget expectations up front. The budget will ground the thinking during concepting. Otherwise, you could get ideas that range from $10,000 to $900,000. Creatives are “big idea” people by nature, so be prepared for big budget ideas if you set them loose with no budget restrictions.

We also need to plan out how we will produce the selected concept. Is there enough budget for a shoot or do we need to work with existing assets and stock photography? All of these details can drastically change the concept that will be presented to the client.



- Rina Mallick is SVP, group creative director at Zócalo Group.  Zócalo Group is an award-winning word-of-mouth, social and digital marketing agency focused on one thing: To help our clients become the most talked about, recommended and chosen brands in their category.