How to Write a Creative Brief (with free creative brief template)

Marketing

person writing in a notepad

Contents

23 min read

When you’re starting a new project, a creative brief is absolutely essential.

Whether it’s a design, advertising, or marketing project (or anything else in between for that matter) a creative brief is a must.

Imagine working with an agency, and experiencing problems further down the line? Perhaps this is a miscommunication or a misunderstanding of what the expectations are which leads to a finished product that you’re unhappy with.

So many things can go wrong if both parties don’t have a solid understanding of what is required from the outset.

This is one of the many reasons why you need a creative brief when it comes to your next project.

As a creative agency, we know how important client-agency communication is. We don’t want to produce anything that falls short of what our clients expect, and if anything, we want to exceed their expectations.

A creative brief is the first step to ensuring this happens as it keeps everyone on the same page.

In this post we’re going to tell you how to write your own creative brief by following a simple step-by-process.

And if that wasn’t enough, we’ve also included a free creative brief template for you to use at your own leisure.

What Is a Creative Brief?

A creative brief is a central document that contains all of the information an agency needs to get started on a project.

As we mentioned in the intro, this could be a design, advertising, or marketing project, as the term ‘creative’ is very broad.

However, the main priority is ensuring the creative brief contains all of the information needed to produce a piece of creative to sell, inform, or educate an audience about a product/ service.

It should leave no stone unturned, and there should be no room for ambiguity.

By having this core document, it gives all parties something to refer back to whenever they are unsure about the project.

Whether that’s the scope of the project, deadlines, or specific deliverables, it should all live in the creative brief.
Woman wearing cat-patterned dress pointing at a mind map on white paper on whiteboard

Why Is a Creative Brief Important?

As we’ve mentioned, a creative brief keeps all parties on the same page.

When you’re working with an agency on your project, you want to be confident that they fully understand your expectations.

You don’t want a half-arsed approach, and you don’t want to be disappointed with the outcome.

After all, you might be spending a lot of money on this and it has to be money well spent!

However, aside from facilitating smooth client-agency communication, a creative brief also allows you to get all of your ideas down onto paper.

Regardless of the type of project you’re working on, you’ll most probably have lots of great ideas which you understand, but communicating these to someone else can be tricky.

However, by writing it all down, it helps to keep everyone aligned that you’re working towards a shared vision.

All-in-all, a creative brief helps drive a better understanding of your project for all parties involved.

When contacting agencies, you’re hoping for several things:

  1. They know about your industry
  2. They know about your company
  3. They’re excited about your project

But none of these things are a given.

Your creative brief serves to make these things a reality.

It’s important to remember that no agency on earth (regardless of how good they are) can know the ins-and-outs of every single industry.

They might have a basic understanding of how your industry operates but it’s unrealistic to expect them to know everything. Introducing: your creative brief. This will act as their bible.

The chances are, unless you’re the Marketing Director of a huge company, they won’t have come across you. Introducing: your creative brief.

And how are they going to get excited about your project if they don’t know anything about it? Introducing: your creative brief.

Imagine you run a creative agency, and this is the email you receive from a potential client:

“Hey, we’re looking to devise a marketing campaign to launch a new service and we like your work.”

Although these emails still ignite your interest, it’s always more exciting to receive an email with a creative brief attached, or even just a tiny bit more information.

You want a window into what the project is all about so you can start thinking of ideas and ways to bring it to life. That’s the exciting part about working for a creative agency – you actually get to be creative and think of new and interesting ideas.

However, that’s only possible by seeing the creative brief first, so it’s important that you’ve got this to hand before reaching out to an agency.

Who Should Write a Creative Brief?

If you or your company are looking to partner with a creative agency on a project, then you need to write a creative brief.

Unless you want to go into the process blind, which, speaking from experience, we do not advise!

At Canny, we find with SMEs and larger companies, it’s usually the Marketing Director, Marketing Manager, or someone within the Marketing Team that would be in charge of writing the creative brief.

Then, Marketing Executives would use it when reaching out to potential creative agency partners.

In smaller companies, it’ll usually be the owner/operator of the business. In this situation, they’re usually quite time poor, and the brief will be less comprehensive.

And that’s absolutely fine!

As long as it contains the key pieces of information for the project to be fully understood, then there’s no need for it to be an essay.

The main thing is ensuring your agency understands what you want to achieve, and then they can take it from there.

At Canny Creative, the clue is in our name!

We love being creative and thinking of engaging and imaginative ideas that will bring your project to life.

A short but succinct creative brief is enough for us to work on. As long as we have the key details of the project, then you can leave the rest to us.

You’re in safe hands, and you’ll be in good company when you partner with us. Just take a look at some of our previous work for more of an insight.

It’s important to keep in mind that your creative brief should highlight the problems you’re facing instead of the solutions you need.

You focus on the problem, and let your agency focus on fixing it for you. That’s what you’re paying them for!

A good creative agency can help you formalise or build on your creative brief, by dissecting it and asking you thoughtful and insightful questions. They’ll have a different way of looking at things and will be able to offer their own expertise.

We should also add that your creative brief isn’t a finished article. It provides the base of your project which can then be built upon and finalised with your chosen agency.

You don’t need to have all the answers straight away. Your chosen creative agency are experts in their field and will be able to help you produce something that fulfills your requirements.

Remember:

The best work is produced through a partnership, and this is something we’re very passionate about.

Working with an agency should be a two way street and you should be able to lean on them for ideas and inspiration. They shouldn’t just take your idea as it currently stands, otherwise you’ve done the hard work for them!

Collaboration is key as this is when true creativity starts to flow.

Learning to trust your chosen creative agency early on will help deliver better results for your business in the long run.

If you can’t trust your agency then you shouldn’t have partnered with them in the first place…
person looking at colour swatches

What Sort of Projects Are Creative Briefs Used for?

The creative brief is a document used across a wide range of industries.

This includes:

  • Education
  • Technology
  • Political campaigns
  • TV agencies
  • Finance
  • Childcare
  • SaaS
  • FMCG

Regardless of your industry, having a creative brief to steer the direction of your project is essential.

At the end of the day, it makes everybody’s life easier as it means there’s no guesswork involved when it comes to decision making.

For example, let’s say an agency is designing a roller banner for a client, and they find themselves wondering:

“Would blue or red represent the brand identity better?” In this scenario, there’s no need to ponder as they can simply refer back to the creative brief.

Or, if the agency is devising a social media campaign and is confused about the target audience, there’s no need to take a punt, as they can simply refer back to the creative brief.

This neat document contains everything they need to know so that the project can progress without any confusion. Now, whether you’re a startup or an established business, this has to be a big benefit.

If you’re finding it difficult to write your creative brief (maybe this is the first time you’ve ever had to do it), then stop right there. Try a different way.

Maybe you can record yourself describing your business and the problems you’re facing. Some people find it easier to talk about things rather than writing them down.

And that’s absolutely fine, as long as you can get all of the information down, it doesn’t matter how you do it.

The most important thing is documenting your ideas in some shape or form, so that your chosen agency can start to get to grips with your business.

Now that we’ve talked about creative briefs in general, let’s look at how you can write your own.

What to Include in Your Creative Brief

It’s no good understanding the importance of a creative brief if you don’t know what needs to be included.

Writing a good creative brief is no easy task, but don’t fret, that’s what we’re here for! Hopefully by the end of this blog post, you’ll be a whizz.

The most important thing is to make your creative brief understandable as this is what your chosen agency is going to refer back to.

It’s a careful balance between making your creative brief compact enough to retain interest, but comprehensive enough to give a good overview of your project. But that’s what we’re here for, and we’re going to walk you through the process step-by-step.

So then, what needs to be included in your creative brief?

  • An Overview of Your Business
  • The Goals Objectives of Your Creative Project
  • Your Target Audience and Market
  • The Problem You’re Facing
  • Project Specific Information
  • Examples of Work You Like
  • Competitor Information
  • Any Other Requirements
  • Project Timescales
  • Project Budget
  • Project Deliverables
  • Contact Information
  • How the Project will Be Awarded
  • Required Response

Now that we’ve outlined what goes into your creative brief, let’s explore these in detail so you know exactly how to complete each section.
woman looking through file

An Overview of Your Business

The first thing you should explain when writing your creative brief, is about your business and the sector you work in.

As we mentioned earlier in the post, no agency on earth will know every sector inside out!

And even if they do have previous clients in your sector, your business will be entirely different from theirs.

As a result, you need to invite your agency into your business so that they can fully understand the ins and outs of your company. This is the only way they’ll be able to help, and put their services to good use.

For this section, try to answer the following questions:

  • What do you do and how do you make your money?
  • How do customers currently buy from your business?
  • What makes your business unique within the marketplace?

The more you can offer in the first instance here, the better.

For example, if we were applying this to Canny, an overview of our business would include the following:

  • At Canny Creative, we create brands, websites, video, and content plans that get our clients real business results.
  • Currently, most of our clients come through our website, thanks to our content strategy. Because our content appeals globally, we have clients across the world.
  • What makes us unique in the market is our partnership based approach. We treat our clients’ businesses like they’re our own, rather than a quick cash grab.

This sort of simple information outlines what your business does and what makes you different.

It is the bread and butter of your business in a few succinct points. Going forward, this will help frame the information that follows.

The Goals and Objectives of Your Creative Project

Whatever your project, the chances are you’re not doing this on a whim.

There’s a reason behind it, which needs to be followed through at each stage of the project.

Your goal for your creative project, could simply be something like:

“We want to create a social media campaign to inform our audience about the importance of using cybersecurity software. We are going to use a range of social media posts including videos, banners, and infographics.”

This information is great as it tells you exactly what your project entails and most importantly, what you want the end result to be.

You also need to include your measures of success as this helps you monitor how your campaign is performing and lets the agency you’re working with understand the criteria.

For example:

If you’re hoping your social media campaign will increase sales, you need to include this in the creative brief.

Why?

Because it’ll change how the agency approaches your project from the outset.

Having a set of “success factors” can help all parties drive the correct response and results.
It ensures everyone knows what their responsibilities are, and will help to create the project plan.
man speaking to an audience

Target Audience and Market

Regardless of the type of project you’re creating, you need to understand your target audience and market.

This allows you to tailor your messaging to suit the right people, otherwise they will not engage with your content.

For example, if your audience is aged between 25-40, a social media campaign which features TikTok would be very fitting. However, if your audience is between the ages of 50-70, then this wouldn’t be the case.

You could create the best TikTok video in the world, but if it doesn’t align with your target audience and their needs, it’s pretty pointless.

Therefore, defining your target audience is key to success to make sure your creative project does not fall flat.

As mentioned above, different types of people interact with different pieces of content and different channels.

By understanding who your audience is, you can make sure you are pitching your project at the right level.

For more help on defining your target audience, check out our guide for creating your ideal customer personas.

Outside of demographic and psychographic traits, ask yourself the following about your customers:

  • What does their family structure look like?
  • What type of car do they drive?
  • Are they a pet owner?
  • What newspaper/magazines do they read?
  • Which websites do they visit? And for what purpose?

Try to include 3 customer persona examples here.

Make sure that the people you include are the people that are targeting your creative campaign.

Otherwise what’s the point?

Whether it’s a social media campaign, a piece of written content, or a new logo, It needs to be seen, and more importantly people need to do something when they see it.

This could be clicking through to your website to find out more about what you do, or liking/ commenting on your social media posts to increase exposure.

Essentially your campaign should trigger some sort of response.

Project Specific Information

Project specific information can be tricky to outline in your creative brief as you might still be unsure on a few ideas.

After all, that’s why you’re looking to engage a professional for help!

As an example, let’s say you want to create a social media campaign to promote your latest rebrand.

To give your chosen agency some more information about how you see this working, consider including things such as:

  • LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook are the channels that work best for us
  • We know that posting twice a day gets the most engagement
  • Video works well across our social media channels, so we’d like to include this in the campaign

Information like this is good to know, and gives your agency a bit of a starting point.

On the flip side, knowing things like:

  • We don’t want to use TikTok as that’s too young for our target audience
  • We don’t want to just cross-post the same information across all channels, as we have different audiences on each
  • We’d like the posts to be short and snappy, as these types of posts are interacted with the most

Can help scope out the project a lot easier.

Whilst project specific information can be tricky at this stage, try to tease out as any details as possible

Remember, the more your chosen agency understands your project, the better the outcome will be.
person pinning photos to a wall

Examples of Work You Like

Regardless of what type of creative project you’re launching (be it content, advertising, or website related), the chances are, you’ve come across examples of work that you like.

This is a great way of giving your chosen agency more of an insight into your thought process and what you would like the final product to look like.

It works the same way as having a mood board or pinterest board as it’s a collection of different ideas which can help steer the project in the right direction.

For example, if you were hiring an interior designer to kit out your new home, you’d probably put together a collection of images/ materials/ colour palettes to give them an idea of the sort of things you like.

This means they’re not just acting on a whim, but having something to refer back to to make sure they get your interior design correct.

The same applies to your creative project, as your chosen agency needs to get a feel/ vibe of what styles/ concepts you’re drawn towards.

As we’ve covered earlier in the blog, it can be difficult for people to describe in words what they want from a visual product. Therefore, it will be helpful to reference any work/ campaigns that communicate what you’re trying to achieve.

Make sure you list out:

  • Website Link
  • What You Like About Them
  • What You Don’t Like About Them

Any sort of research you have in this department is helpful!

Competitor Information

Whether you’re creating a new brand, rebranding your current company, launching a new product, or embarking on a social media campaign, it’s important to be aware of your competitors.

Regardless of the type of creative project, you need to know how other companies are operating in this space.

After all, your competitors are fighting for the attention of your customers and you need to stay one step ahead.

For example, if it’s a social media campaign, look at what they’re doing and see if you can do it better. Are they only using Facebook and Twitter yet totally overlooking LinkedIn? Perfect. This could be your golden opportunity.

If you’re starting to create blog content, are your competitors only doing short form blogs that barely cover a topic in depth? Again, this is perfect. You can start creating long form content, with useful checklists and infographics that cover topics from end-to-end.

Knowing your competitors is key, as you can start to look for weakness in their current activities.

As a result, you need to make note of your competitors and pay particular attention to what they do well and what they don’t do well.

Knowing your competitors is a good thing, as it feeds your creativity.

You should never be scared of your competitors as they can also become partners or trusted allies.
For instance:

  • Can you partner with them to offer something new?
  • Are there learnings you can take from one of their creative campaigns?
  • Do you want to be like them, or completely different?

All of these are fantastic starting points, and enable your chosen agency to position your brand in the right way.
hand on mouse clicking

Any Other Requirements

Ask yourself if there are any other things that your creative project must have.

For example, you need to consider elements such as the style and tone as both of these things affect the way people see your brand, and most importantly, how they interact with it.

You also need to decide what action you want your customers to take as a result of seeing your campaign, for example, do you want them to sign up to your newsletter or make a purchase through your website.

As mentioned before, any campaign should trigger some sort of response otherwise it’s pretty much pointless.

Therefore, to ensure your messaging aligns with your objectives, be sure to include your strategic positioning and the key messages that need to be addressed.

For instance, if you’re creating a landing page for an upcoming competition, you’d probably want the messaging and visual design to be fun to inspire people to enter.

However, if you’re creating a social media campaign to address a serious topic such as climate change or the importance of saving money, you’d most likely want something that looks and sounds more formal.

Style and tone are very important and both of these things need to be clearly outlined in your creative brief.

Project Timescales

This question often helps creative agencies to decide whether they can be involved with your project or not.

If you’re looking for a rapid turnaround time, and the agencies you reach out to have a lot of work on, they might decline the offer to work together.

“ASAP” is not an acceptable answer when talking about timescales either. There needs to be a reasonable level of understanding here, things don’t just happen overnight.

Make sure you outline the following:

  • Deadline for creative brief submissions
  • Invited agencies to present proposal
  • Agency appointed
  • Project ready
  • Go live (if applicable)

Having an idea of project timescales beforehand helps both you and your creative agency prepare for the project.
hand drawing an advertising budget

Project Budget

Include a suggested budget if possible, if not, a budget range.

This can be difficult to estimate as creative campaigns can vary hugely.

For example, if you’re just refreshing your current logo, and that’s it, this will be much cheaper than a total rebranding campaign. In contrast to only working on your logo, this will include printed collateral, roller banners, social media campaigns, and possibly a new website.

The more work that’s involved, the more the budget will increase.

Whilst having a set number in mind can be difficult when it comes to your creative project, having a budget range is super useful!

Project Deliverables

Outlining your project deliverables is so important as these are the ‘things’ that you expect to receive from your project.

Depending on what type of creative project you’re working on, your project deliverables will vary greatly.

For example, do you need a one-page brochure?

Or perhaps a batch of 10 banner ads?

Or maybe you need a new logo?

Whatever is it that you need from the project, make sure these deliverables are clearly stated.

You can’t be vague with these deliverables either, as your chosen agency needs to know exactly what they’re creating.

For instance, if you need a logo, is this for print, just for the web, or for both?

Also what type of file do you need (i.e., JPG, PNG, PSD) and what size?

Addressing all of these questions and making sure your creative brief is detailed, ensures you get the right assets from your chosen agency.

Contact Information

To ensure everything runs smoothly, there needs to be a lead point of contact in every creative project.

One voice of reason that can be used to add balance to the discussions, and go between both the creative agency and the main company is absolutely essential.

This person should know the project inside and out. From goals and objectives through to project deadlines, this person will help ensure everything runs smoothly.

Make sure you list out the contact details of the project contact, and the best time and way to get hold of them.

The creative agency should also do their part here and once the project kicks off, they’ll assign a member of staff (usually an Account Manager) to handle their side of the communication.

At Canny, we assign a dedicated Account Manager to each of our projects to guide you throughout the entire process.

There’s nothing worse than having to speak to several members of staff and repeating yourself over and over again when you want an update on something.

That’s why having a dedicated point of contact makes the process much smoother and keeps both parties on the same page.
trophy

How the Project will Be Awarded

If you’re considering working with a number of creative agencies, or sending your creative brief to several choices, then you need to make sure they know how the project will be awarded.

FYI:

We don’t believe in distributing your creative brief to a huge number of agencies. It’s not respectful of their time as ultimately, you’re only choosing one.

That said, we appreciate you’ll want to collect several proposals and opinions. 3 to 5 agencies is a fair number to approach.

Not sure how to choose a creative agency to work with?

Well then look no further! Check out this post about choosing the right creative agency.

Now, how will your project be awarded?

Typically, there are several elements at play:

  • Cost/value for money
  • Quality of work
  • Previous experience
  • Alignment to the creative brief
  • Suitability of the agency

There are any number of factors you could use to judge the responses.

You could also write the percentage and weighting of each of the awarding criteria into your creative brief, so that agencies know what’s most important to you.

Required Response

You’ll be pleased to know that this part of your creative brief is fairly easy to write!

You simply need your creative agency to know what you’re expecting back, by when, and how to submit it.

It’s a case of listing out what you expect to receive back.

This could be as simple as:

  • A written response to the creative brief
  • Examples of relevant work
  • Testimonials from happy clients

Tell them how to submit their proposal, what to include, and by when.

After that point, it’s over to them. Let them get creative with it while you sit back and let the proposals come in.

How to Write a Creative Brief (with free creative brief template!)

Your creative brief is an essential part of your upcoming project as it keeps all parties on the same page.

When you’re working with a creative agency, it’s important you’re all rowing in the same direction otherwise the final product could be very different to what you had in mind.

As a business owner or marketing manager, you will have a clear vision of what your creative project should look like.

Whether this is a marketing, advertising, or design campaign, you will have a set of criteria and expectations that your chosen agency needs to meet.

But, this is only achievable if they fully understand what is required from start to finish.

If you’ve never produced a creative brief before then it can seem intimidating. That’s why we’ve included a free creative brief template in this post, so that you simply input your own information.

Or perhaps you would rather talk about your creative project in some more detail? At Canny, we’ve executed countless creative briefs, and know what it takes to transform some ideas on a piece of paper, into fantastic campaigns that generate real results.

Simply get in touch with the team, and let’s get the conversation started!