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Creative Briefs in Shifting Times
by Terry Lee Stone

3. Drivers. What is our goal for this project? What are we trying to achieve? What is the purpose of our work? What are our top three objectives? What are the essential consumer, brand and category insights? What thought, feeling or action can we bring to life? How will success be measured?

4. Audience. Who are we talking to? What do they think of the client? What will make the client more appealing to them? Why should they care about this brand? What inspires, motivates, interests and amuses them? Who are they talking to? How can we help them better connect with their own community? What causes buzz in their world? What competes for their attention?

5. Competitors. Who is the competition? SWOT analysis on them? What differentiates the client from them? What are they telling the audience that we should be telling them? How and where do they engage with the audience? Why are they really better (or not)?

6. Tone. How should we be communicating? What adjectives describe the desired feeling, personality or approach? Discuss how content (images/words), flow of information (narrative), interaction (physical/virtual) and user behaviors (pro/con) should affect mode and style.

7. Message. What are we saying with this piece exactly? How can the client back that up? Are the words already developed or do we develop them? What do we want audiences to take away?

8. Visuals. Are we developing new images or using existing ones? If we are creating them, who, what, where are we shooting and why? Should we consider illustrations and/or charts? What type of thematic iconography makes sense and is appealing? How do existing style guides and brand manuals affect the project?

9. Details. Any mandatory info? List of deliverables? Pre-conceived ideas? Format parameters? Limitations and restrictions? Timeline, budget? The best delivery media? And why?

10. People. Who are we reporting to? Who will approve this work? Who needs to be informed of our progress? By what means?

A creative brief is used not only at the start of a project, but throughout the entire creative process. It is the one element that has been agreed upon and is objective enough to act as a shared guideline. Clients use it to get organized, and to develop consensus within their own enterprises. They then use it to help determine if the creative actually solves the problem as intended. The creative team uses creative briefs to fact-find and understand their client, building knowledge about both perception and reality of the problem at hand. Creatives often find that what their client thinks is the problem is not really the problem at all. These are the things revealed in the briefing.

Creative briefs are shared by both designers and clients, working to frame the project, spark
ideas and evaluate effectiveness. Illustration: Martha Rich,

Managing to a creative brief. Once the creative brief is approved, it is a useful tool for getting all members of the creative team ready to work on the project. The designers and art directors have relevant grounding to inform their thinking, the writer has messaging information, the production and project managers have milestones and due dates and the account executive has met with all client stakeholders. Everyone has what they need, no matter what their responsibility is.

Evaluating creative briefs. If the creative is driven by the client’s desire to achieve a measurable goal, then it’s pretty obvious as to whether or not you’ve succeeded in achieving it. Some goals are less easy to measure, but increasingly, analytics and benchmarks make certain kinds of success more transparent. In addition, to evaluate the effectiveness of your creative briefs, there are some things to look at as objectively as possible:

• Is the creative aligned with the client's goals and brand values?
• Does the creative distinctly position the client as unique?
• How has the target audience responded to the creative? Have they actively engaged and even shared it with others?
• Does the creative showcase unique ideas and functionality?
• Has the creative garnered industry attention?

Try a rigorous evaluation after each project and report your results back to your client. This information will help the team course correct and build on the work to create even more effective solutions. There will always be new ways and means to achieve results utilizing creativity. Currently social media is a real game changer. Bottom line: Everyone needs a winning game plan. Start by developing a better creative brief. CA Lee Stone
Terry Lee Stone ( is a Los Angeles-based writer, manager and creative strategist. Stone teaches the business of design at Art Center College of Design. The author of several books on design, her recent two-book series is called, Managing The Design Process (Rockport Publishers). She wrote the Business column.