How to Write a Project Brief (with Free Project Brief Template)

Business

Multiple people sat around a desk workshopping

Contents

24 min read

A project brief is unlike any other brief you might have come across in the past, let’s make that clear from the start.

It’s different because there are countless project types to pick and choose from, each spanning various different mediums, from web design all the way to content.

Outlining your project details via a brief is the easiest way of working out key details internally. It also gives an agency a better idea of what you’re looking for, the goals of the project, the deliverables, your budget, and timescales.

We’ve created a project brief template for you to use (linked above), this should make your life a little easier when putting together your own briefs. It’s a free download that you can use again and again!

Below we’ll be helping you fill this template out in full, alongside key information on why it’s important, who should write a project brief, frequently asked questions, and what you need to include with every brief.

Let’s start with a definition to help you better understand what a project brief is.

What is a Project Brief?

A project brief is a document used to map out key information relating to something specific you or your team are hoping to achieve. It’s a brief that needs to communicate the reason and approach for a project and the processes used to manage it.

As mentioned in the intro, mapping this information out is beneficial for both you and the agency you’re working with to help execute this brief, as the information you provide leaves nothing to chance.

Knowing who you’re targeting with the project, what the goals/objectives are, and how much budget you have will steer you in the right direction, and put you in touch with the right people who will take this brief and bring it to life.

Another thing a project brief gives you is scope and a greater understanding of what you’re hoping to achieve, how you’ll achieve it, and who will help you. This is one of the main reasons why having a project brief is so important.

Woman wearing cat-patterned dress pointing at a mind map on white paper on whiteboard

Why is a Project Brief Important?

It might seem like it when you’re writing it, but your project brief is for everyone – everyone that is directly involved with what you’re hoping to achieve within the project itself, that is.

You see, this document can be shared both internally and externally. Sharing it internally gives your team (and yourself) a better understanding of the project overall. What’s more, the document serves as a comprehensive reminder should anyone need it.

Externally, the document gives the third party you’re working with a better idea of what you want and what your expectations are.

Some businesses will post a project brief online and wait for agencies to pitch something to them that matches, or over-delivers, on what is requested.

Reading this document also clues them in on how much money you have to spend when you want it done, and the overall goal of the project – all of which will be required before they agree to work with you.

And having it to hand over in a single document saves time; it also wraps up everything in an easily digestible format that anyone should be able to pick up and understand.

Having this document also gives you something to refer back to once the project comes to an end, which helps determine the overall success of the project and whether or not the agency is worth keeping on your list of contacts should you want to work with them again.

In short, having everything you need within one single document is beneficial for you and the people directly involved in the process.

Who Should Write a Project Brief?

Ideally, the person writing the project brief should be heavily involved in the project itself. This can range from marketing managers to business owners, to other members of the greater marketing team.

Do keep in mind that this depends entirely on the business. We’ve come into contact with SMEs where marketing executives have written the project brief and others where the COO has written it.

The point is:

There’s no clear rule on who has to write it, all that matters is that it’s written and it makes sense to everyone who comes in contact with it.

If your brief is in-depth enough and contains all of the relevant/required information, then any agency should be able to pick it up, understand what is required and why, and then create. If they can’t then it means your brief is confusing, inconsistent, or too long.

That’s another point worth mentioning:

Try not to write a project brief that is more than a few pages long (we’d class “a few” as between 1-4 pages tops).

The reason for that is you don’t need to over-explain the project to get results. Remember, agencies are looking at these briefs and evaluating whether or not it works for them; the ball always sits in both courts.

Another thing to consider is how set in stone your project is and whether or not you’d be willing to change parts if it worked better for all involved. For example, you might reach out to an agency you really like but they’ve said they can’t complete the project based on budget limitations.

Can this sum be adjusted, or is the budget non-negotiable?

This will need to be considered when negotiating with agencies.

Project Brief FAQs

Let’s turn our attention to some frequently asked questions on project briefs before looking at what you need to include.

  • What is the purpose of a project brief?

    A project brief is a document used to map out key information relating to something specific you or your team are hoping to achieve. It’s a brief that needs to communicate the reason and approach for a project and the processes used to manage it.

  • How do you prepare a project brief?

    How you prepare each project brief depends entirely on the project itself.

    That said, every brief should include the following elements:

    • Project Name
    • Project Client
    • An Overview of Your Company
    • The Objectives of Your Project
    • Your Target Audience and Market
    • Project Specific Information
    • Examples of Work You Like
    • Competitor Information
    • Project Timescales
    • Project Budget
    • Project Deliverables
    • Contact Information
    • How the Project Will Be Awarded
    • Required Response
  • How should a project brief be written?

    Short and succinct project briefs tend to work the best as they don’t confuse the reader by over-explaining what you need.

    The tone of voice you use will depend entirely on the type of business you are, where you’re sending the brief, and what you asking for.

four men in a meeting with whiteboard

What Should Be Included In a Project Brief?

There are lots to include in a project brief which is why most people get confused when it comes time to write their own. Hopefully, that changes once we’ve broken each section down into bite-size chunks, explaining what needs to be included and why.

Another tip for you:

Hand this brief around to other members of the team for feedback before sending it off.

Getting the document sense-checked by multiple people will ensure a) that the document is free of any errors, b) that it makes sense when reading it, and c) includes all relevant information.

Here’s a quick rundown of what needs to be included in your project brief:

  • Project Name
  • Project Client
  • An Overview of Your Company
  • The Objectives of Your Project
  • Your Target Audience and Market
  • Project Specific Information
  • Examples of Work You Like
  • Competitor Information
  • Project Timescales
  • Project Budget
  • Project Deliverables
  • Contact Information
  • How the Project Will Be Awarded
  • Required Response

This section is where our project brief template will come in real handy.

Go ahead and download it if you haven’t already, we’ll wait…

Project Name

The first box is pretty self-explanatory.

Simply fill in the name of the project and move on to the next bit. If you haven’t agreed on a project name yet, simply name it:

“[Brand Name] [Project Type] Project”

Here’s an example of what this might look like in context:

“BlueSwing Tuition Office Video Project”

Another option at this stage could be to assign a working title to the project that you can change at a later date.

Again, it’s completely up to you how you fill this first box in.

Project Client

All you have to do here is write down the name of the company you represent.

It’s as simple as that.

Woman working on computer and writing notes

An Overview

Not every agency that reads this brief is going to know what your business does, what industry you’re in, and how you communicate.

The overview section is where you get a chance to introduce yourself to them – presenting key background information on the company they’d be partnering with!

You might not think so, but creative agencies pay very close attention to this information. After all, your brand underpins the entire project in some way or another, either directly or indirectly depending on the type of project it is.

  • What does your company do exactly?
  • Where do you operate in the world?
  • How are you different to your competitors?
  • What is important to you and why?

Your overview should answer all of the above questions in one short paragraph. It should also include any relevant information that you think is worth mentioning. For example, you might mention that you have aspirations of opening new locations in the near future.

Just try to be as succinct as possible with whatever you come up with.

Remember this is a project brief, not an autobiography. In other words, try to avoid telling your entire brand story here (that’s what the about us page on your website is there for).

Project Overview

It’s time to talk about the project itself by summarising exactly what you want, in what format, and how you plan to distribute what is produced.

Here you need to outline what you expect and the scope of the project, both give the reader a complete understanding of the project as a whole.

One of the best ways to approach the project overview is to think of it as a form of mission statement. Doing so will help you structure it in a way that highlights the goal, what problems it intends to solve, and again, your expectations.

It goes without saying that the more specific you can be when describing the project, the better. It’s not enough to say that you want “to run an engaging social media campaign,” or “I need a landing page for seasonal products.”

Both examples are way too broad and need to be fleshed out further in order to understand them fully…

Remember, nothing should be left to chance here.

Yes, the reader can ask questions after reading, but the bulk of what’s outlined in this brief should answer 90% of anything they might ask outright. If it doesn’t then your project risks getting lost in translation – which is time and money wasted for all parties.

person shooting a basketball hoop

The Objectives of Your Project

What is it you’re hoping to achieve with this project and how will you measure the success of the project? You’ll need to answer these questions next.

Clearly defined objectives are key here, preferably backed by some level of data/research (if applicable). Having data/research on hand is very useful to have, as it establishes a baseline for you to compare the results of the project to.

Try using the SMART model if you find yourself getting stuck on this part, don’t have any relevant data to compare to, or simply want to strengthen your objectives.

Many marketers swear by this method (us included).

Below we’ve broken the model down to help you better understand what it is and how it helps:

  • Specific: Your goal should be as a honed-in as possible. Outline everything from who is involved, to the what, where, when, and why you want to accomplish the goal you have in mind.
  • Measurable: Milestone goals need to be measurable to determine the success of the project overall.
  • Attainable: Is the goal attainable by you? Do you have the time, the focus, and the energy to maximise the success of the project? You’ll need to answer this ahead of time.
  • Realistic: An underrated aspect of project development is knowing whether or not your project goals are realistic. If you don’t have the time or the budget for what you want, then it isn’t attainable.
  • Time-Based: Time creates a sense of urgency, it also helps you understand your goals better. Don’t just say you want to “increase web traffic by 30%,” make a goal to “increase web traffic by 30% in the next quarter” instead.

It’s not enough to simply fill this information in, by the way…

To determine the success of your project you need to answer all of the above in an open and transparent manner. We say that because the biggest fault we see in project briefs is just how unrealistic they are.

This is another reason why getting your project brief checked by multiple other team members is more than ideal.

Your Target Audience and Market

This is the part where you describe your target audience and the market/markets you’re looking to engage via the project. Knowing your audience is key to any project, as you need to determine who you’re targeting.

Your audience also inspires the type of project you run, which makes understanding who they are, what they find interesting, and their background a must.

When determining your target audience, it’s important that you identify the following things:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Income
  • Job
  • Background

This information might already be known based on the data pulled from an existing customer base or from previous projects that have done something similar.

Whether these past projects were a success or a failure is irrelevant, all that matters is that you have the data to analyse to help you better understand what worked and what could be improved to improve your chances of success.

If you’re a new business and are trying something new with this project then there are two options we’d recommend:

  • Study established competitors
  • Create audience personas

Studying the competition will tell you which projects work, and which don’t. By studying your competitors you might find that gaps begin to show – gaps that you can then fill via your own projects thus increasing its chances of success!

Creating customer personas allows you to bypass not having a decently-sized customer base, and still find success with your project. We have a blog on creating customer personas if you’d like to find out more?

white i on a green background (the public information point logo in europe)

Project Specific Information

The project-specific information section tends to throw people off, as most think of it as an alternative term for project overview, despite the two having differences.

Project-specific information is where you jot down any outstanding bits of information that you believe are worth mentioning and will bring you closer to positive results.

Like other parts of the project brief, you need to be specific about whatever you include. That said, you should also take care of what you mention as it’s easy to get carried away and just fill this section with quotes and statistics (they do help in moderation, though).

Here are a few examples of what you could include:

  • For a Branding project: “A lot of our competitors use isometric shapes in their branding. We’re looking to avoid anything like that and would prefer something more unique.
  • For a Web Design project: ”Last year we sold more products with bright illustrations. We’re looking for something similar, just less cartoony and more like what HubSpot is doing.“
  • For a Content project: ”Our data tells us that evergreen content works best when attracting new leads. Can we ensure that everything created feels like an extension of that?
  • For a Video project: “The video needs to be less than 3 minutes long as we want to share it via social media.
  • Hopefully, you get the idea and can structure this section based on your own needs once you get to it in your own project brief.

    Examples of Work You Like

    More often than not, the project you have in mind is inspired by something you’ve seen elsewhere – usually via a competitor or a leading brand in your segment. This brings us to:

    Sharing examples of work you like.

    Articulating what you want out of a project can be tough – especially if it’s something visual like a logo or a banner; anything like that.

    By showing work you like directly, you bypass any confusion, informing the agency exactly what you want, thus painting a much clearer picture!

    It’s great to include links, just make sure that you explain what you like/dislike about it so that the reader knows exactly how to apply this information in practice. Again, try to be specific with your points.

    Simply stating that you “like how it looks” isn’t enough, as that could apply to anything and everything. No, you need to be as specific as possible in order to relay the correct information, to take the idea you have in your head and turn it into a reality.

    Between 2-5 examples of work you like tends to be enough, but feel free to include more/less as long as it’s relevant.

    To recap, make sure you list out the following when filling this section in:

    • Website link
    • What you like about it
    • What you don’t like about it

    chess pieces

    Competitor Information

    Mentioning who your competitors are and what they do helps in more ways than one for agencies.

    Outlining who your competitors are gives them a much better idea of your current position in the market, while also highlighting any potential gaps that you can then fill through your own projects.

    Filling gaps left by competitors is something we’ve talked about at length on the Canny blog, most notably in our “How to Perform a Brand Analysis on Your Brand’s Competitors” post.

    But yes, competitor information is important, regardless of the type of project you’re currently producing. After all, your competitors are fighting for the attention of your customers and you need to stay one step ahead.

    Do you and your competitors run events but have noticed that they don’t promote them a lot via blog content or have blogs dedicated to promoting them outright?

    There’s a gap right there if they don’t!

    Never be scared of what you’ll find from researching the competition, too, by the way. There’s a lot of value to extract from analysing them, and who knows, maybe you could partner with them and become trusted allies?

    Plus, you’ll find that your research gives you, and your agency partner, a much better understanding of your current position within the market, which can be used to steer the direction of your projects.

    Project Timescales

    When do you want x finished by?

    You’ll need to answer this question when setting project timescales.

    This question often helps creative agencies decide whether or not they can work with you on the project. And not all of them will have the time to do if you’re looking for something extensive within a short time period.

    Filling this box in with “ASAP” is such a non-answer, so avoid doing that.

    Agencies need you to be specific as they need to look at their current workload and whether or not the hours are there to deliver something of a high enough quality.

    Make sure you outline the following in this section:

    • Deadline for project brief submissions
    • Invited agencies to present proposal
    • Agency appointed
    • Project ready
    • Project launch

    pot of money with plant growing

    Project Budget

    Project budget tends to throw a lot of people off (mostly because they don’t understand how much things cost).

    If you’re unsure, simply jot down a budget range instead of a specified amount. You can then negotiate this figure with the agency you’re in contact with.

    Do keep in mind that how much you pay will also vary depending on the project itself, which goes back to what we were saying before about being realistic.

    A web project typically takes longer than, say, a branding project – although this can vary depending on what the branding project involves. Try to keep that in mind when setting your budget, and remember:

    The more work required, the more it will cost.

    Project Deliverables

    Outlining your project deliverables is another important part of any project brief. ‘Deliverables’ are categorised as anything you expect to receive from the project.

    Of course, what you receive will vary from project to project based on what was originally agreed between you and your agency partner. Whatever it is that you need, make sure that it’s all stated within this document.

    Specify exactly what you’re looking for, too, as this will ensure that everyone is on the same page and understands what needs to be handed over and by when (as stated in the timescales section).

    Important to include:

    It’s not enough to simply state what you need (i.e. social media assets for x campaign).

    Do you need an MP4 video?

    Should the blog be under 3,500 words?

    And do the social media assets need to be a certain size?

    Make sure that this information is relayed within the document, or risk spending budget/time on amendments.

    A woman talking to someone on a phone

    Contact Information

    To be clear:

    The contact information you include is not the contact information of the business, but rather, an individual/individuals who either take care of the project from your end or act as a go-between for others within the organisation.

    We thought we’d make that point clear as we’re often receiving project briefs with the main business email/phone number attached.

    This can make getting in touch with the relevant individuals quite difficult and often leads to information getting buried in email inboxes and phone calls getting missed.

    Usually, the person writing the project brief is the one running the project, meaning they should be the one to put their work email address and telephone number down – alongside any other important individuals.

    Alongside email addresses/phone numbers, you should also include the best times to get in touch (if you can).

    The creative agency will do the same thing once the project is up and running, assigning a direct point of contact from the agency.

    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.

    How the Project Will Be Awarded

    If your plan is to send this brief to a number of agencies, then you need to let them know how the project will be awarded.

    As a general rule of thumb:

    We’d recommend against sending this brief to any more than 5 agencies tops. Sending your project brief to more is a time-consuming task where you then have to juggle multiple different proposals and then get back in touch with each of them.

    This can take a while to sort.

    Narrowing your list down to 5 or less is a lot easier to manage in comparison. It also gives you the opportunity to engage with each of them, ask questions, and get to know them a lot better before making a decision.

    Look at the following if you find yourself stuck on which agency to go with:

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

    To help, review each agency using the above list, assigning a mark out of 5 for each consideration and then check out the results. This should help you determine the best agency for the job!

    Required Response

    The easiest part of the project brief is also the last part.

    Here you simply need to outline what you’re expecting to receive from the agencies, by when, and how they submit it for evaluation.

    This could be as simple as:

    • Examples of relevant work
    • A written response to the brief
    • A deck containing mock-ups
    • Testimonials from happy clients
    • Anything else of relevance

    At that point, it’s over to them to be creative with everything you’ve presented them within the project brief.

    A man celebrating a successful project brief

    How to Write a Project Brief (with Free Project Brief Template)

    And there you have it, that’s how you write a project brief from start to finish.

    We hope that this post has helped bring you one step closer to your goals and that you fully understand why each section of this document is needed in facilitating those goals. After all, the more your agency understands, the better the outcome.

    Was our project brief template helpful, by the way?

    It’s one of many downloads we have on the Canny site used to take ideas and turn them into a successful reality.

    Speaking of setting you up for success…

    If you have a project brief that you’d like to share with us, then be sure to send it our way. We know what it takes to help get the most out of these documents, and the most out of your budgets based on results.

    Get in touch today, and let’s get the ball rolling, together!

    Other Design Brief Templates in the Series

    Is your project a lot more specific? We have a variety of helpful resources if it is.

    Check them out below:

    The Design Brief Template

    The Design Brief Template will help you get the foundation for any design project right. It’s a good all rounder!

    From graphic design to interior design, no matter the type of design project you need – The Design Brief Template is sure to help you out.

    Download now
    Read the post

    The Branding Brief Template

    The Branding Brief Template will help you get the brief for your company branding project right.

    From straight up branding projects for small businesses, to the full scale branding of larger companies – The Branding Brief Template has all types of branding projects covered.

    Download now
    Read the post

    The Rebranding Brief Template

    The Rebranding Brief Template will help you get the brief for your rebranding project right.

    From smaller rebranding projects, to full scale enterprise rebranding – The Rebranding Brief Template has all sizes of rebranding projects covered.

    Download now
    Read the post

    The Web Design Brief Template

    The Web Design Brief Template will help you get the brief for your web design project right.

    Whether you’re creating a new website for your business, or redesigning your existing website – then The Web Design Brief Template is going to be useful.

    Download now
    Read the post

    The Video Brief Template

    The Video Brief Template will help you get the foundation for your video project right.

    Whether you’re embarking on a corporate video, documentary, explainer, or any other type of video project – then The Video Brief Template is sure to help you out.

    Download now
    Read the post

    The Marketing Brief Template

    The Marketing Brief will help you get the brief for any of your marketing projects right.

    Whether you’re looking to grow traffic to your website, or increase conversions from existing traffic – then The Marketing Brief Template is here to help.

    Download now
    Read the post

    The Packaging Brief Template

    The Packaging Design Brief template will help you communicate the needs of your packaging project.

    From cartons and bottles to boxes and envelopes, knowing what to include in your brief can be confusing – that’s why we designed The Packaging Design Brief template, to help you make sense of the packaging madness.

    Download now
    Read the post

    The RFP / RFQ Template

    The RFP / RFQ Template will help you to create an easy to understand document that communicates the needs of your project.

    Whether you’re embarking on a branding, web design, brochure design, packaging design, or any other type of design project – then The RFP / RFQ Template can help.

    Download now
    Read the post