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The creative brief: A how-to guide for producing stellar work (with template)

15 min read
Katie Oberthaler

Teams and clients collaborating on creative projects need a way to establish clear objectives, define expectations, and specify metrics for success. That's where a creative brief comes into play.

In this post, we’ll explain the benefits of creative briefs, what they should include, and share some creative brief examples from major brands. We’ll even share Ziflow’s in-house creative brief template! 

What we'll cover

What is a creative brief?

A creative brief is a living document that provides direction for creative teams and explains project goals. A creative brief may also define project deliverables, deadlines, and stakeholders, although those details might instead be part of a separate project brief. 

A creative brief usually includes:

  • A brand or project statement
  • Key objectives/challenges
  • Target audience
  • Main competitors
  • Company values/market positioning
  • Campaign channels (such as  social media, banner ads, and print materials)

The importance of creative briefs

Even when projects seem straightforward, spending time on a creative brief is a worthwhile exercise. These are the main reasons creative briefs are important: 

They document the creative plan

A creative brief is similar to a recipe—even if you think you remember all the steps, you’ll probably need to refer back to it at some point. 

They save time

All of the information that goes into the creative brief will help creative teams work more efficiently. For example, if a creative brief explains which fonts a client uses for all branded materials, a graphic designer won’t have to ask about that (and wait for a reply) midway through a project.

They improve accountability

When you define the roles for each person involved in a creative project, you improve accountability. Creatives and clients can see who’s responsible for specific tasks, as well as incremental and final deadlines. 

They account for the unexpected

Sometimes—especially with projects that have a long timeline—client priorities change, or new stakeholders step into an important project role. The creative brief can explain how shifting objectives, additional requests, or new instructions impact delivery dates. This level of transparency helps prevent miscommunication and keeps projects within scope. 

They accelerate approvals

In theory, a creative brief should give creative teams all of the information they need to produce exactly what the client wants. That means teams will spend less time on the feedback cycle and revisions. The creative brief also helps clients understand the process for review and approvals, and how their timely feedback supports your goal of meeting deadlines. 

They improve your processes

Once you’ve created your first creative brief, it can become a creative brief template. Your processes will become predictable and repeatable, which increases efficiency.


When should you use a creative brief? 

Creative briefs aren’t always necessary. Sometimes, the effort to create a brief would take longer than the actual work itself. Creative briefs are most useful for:

  • New project kickoffs for highly conceptual or complex creative work
  • Iterations of existing work/past projects
  • Work that requires several stakeholders or effort across the creative team
  • Creative projects with long timelines 
  • Any projects that require several rounds of approval or compliance review

Who should ‘own’ the creative brief?

Usually, a project manager and/or client success manager creates the creative brief, with input from the client. Client input may include specifics from the client’s creative team, marketing staff, and stakeholders who manage budgets. 

Ziflow online proofing viewer tool for marketing compliance

 

For example, the project managers at creative firm Advent, which helps college and professional sports organizations develop large-scale interactive displays, formalizes their initial consultation notes into a creative brief that both clients and designers can approve before work begins. This is how Advent’s Operations Manager explains their creative brief process: 

“Our team will still start the first review together in person and talk through it. Clients still like that aspect of discussion in live time. Once that initial discussion happens, the person that's responsible for updating all the design now has a way to say, ‘Did we actually implement all the things we discussed?’”


What should a creative brief include?

A creative brief tells a “story” behind any creative project and usually includes the following details: 

Project background

The project (or company) background is a paragraph that answers the question: “Who is paying for this project, and what are their core values?”  

Target audience

The target audience information tells creatives who they’re trying to reach. This information may include demographics—age, occupation, and hobbies, for example. 

Messaging/tone  

In this section of the creative brief, the client provides guidance on what feelings their content should evoke or the words they’d use to describe their company, products, or services. This might just be a list of words, such as: trustworthy, lighthearted, and conscientious. 

Main business objective(s)

This section tells creatives the purpose of their work, such as: 

  • Raise brand awareness
  • Increase dollar value of purchases
  • Drive subscription renewals

Competition

Listing a few competitors can help creatives during the research phase. They can see how competitors are marketing products and perhaps find some inspiration for their work. 

Key benefits

This section is usually just a few bullet points that speak to the target audience, such as: 

  • Sustainably made
  • 24/7 customer service
  • Best value for the purchase price

Reference material

Clients might provide some reference materials to help creatives understand the look and feel they should be trying to create. This section could include URLs (if the project is a website redesign), and internal marketing and sales materials.

Essentials

Some businesses have strict guidelines about what to include in creative assets, for example, a logo or tagline. Some brands also forbid certain words, phrases, or statements in their copy. This information might be in the creative brief, or it may be part of their brand brief (which we’ll explain in the next section). 

Types of creative briefs

These are some of the most common types of creative briefs:

Design briefs

Design briefs may include additional reference materials, mood boards, and—in the case of product or packaging design—technical specifications. 

Brand briefs

Brand briefs include brand requirements for images and/or copy. As this example demonstrates, brand briefs may also define specific uses for logos and imagery: 

Project briefs

A marketing campaign may require several types of creative assets, each of which may have a dedicated project brief. Details that project briefs usually include are: 

  • A list of all deliverables
  • Due dates for drafts and final assets
  • The stakeholders responsible for approvals, and their contact details

Advertising briefs

Advertising briefs may define where a completed asset will appear, and any formatting guidelines. For example, if creatives are designing a print ad, the advertising brief should include specifications about color usage, ad size, and image resolution. 

Client briefs

Creative briefs for clients often take the form of any of the above briefs, but often with more specific or strict details on external timelines, deliverables, and costs associated with additional work. They may follow a template provided by the client or include tailored suggestions for the client outlined during project planning.

Template: Ziflow’s internal creative brief 

As Ziflow, we recently developed a new creative briefing process for our own marketing projects. Over the last year, company growth put new work loads onto our marketing team, and we rapidly scaled our creative team in response. As we added more designers, copywriters, video editors, we realized we needed to formalize our own project planning to be more organized and communicate the progress of work more effectively with other stakeholders.

Our Creative Project Manager developed a creative brief template that all stakeholders use to request new work from our creative team. Now, all of our creative projects–from web designs and video to blog posts and product designs–begin with this template:

Creative Brief Template

Project Name:

 

Project Owner:

 

Project Stakeholders:

 

Project Background:

 

Project objective:

 

Audience:

 

Distribution channel:

 

Deliverables:

 

Tech spec:

 

Design inspiration:

 

Copy to be included:

 

Priority:

 

Deadline:

 

This creative brief is added as a task within our Asana project management system by each project owner. Our Creative Project Manager then reviews each brief and related task for clarity before assigning it to the creative team for production.

Here's an example of how we used this brief to launch new social media ads. With the core information included, the creative team has a full understanding of the project's purpose, needed deliverables, and any specifications for assets. 

Creative Brief Template

Project Name:

 New Social Media ad set

Project Owner:

Demand Generation Manager

Project Stakeholders:

Demand Generation Manager, CMO, SEM Contractors, Social Media Manager

Project Background:

We want to create new social display ads to replace three existing SEM campaigns with new images and text.

Project objective:

Increase paid ad performance and new free trials of Ziflow

Audience:

Google search and social media users

Distribution channel:

Facebook, Instagram, Google Display Ads

Deliverables:

3x static facebook post
1 static instagram post

1x animated instagram post

Html5 and static - full package according to tech spec

Tech spec:

Facebook:
3x static post: ratio 1:1, png/jpg, up to 20% of text visible at the graphic
Instagram:

1x static post, 4:5 ratio, png/jpg

1x animated post, up to 4GB, 5 sec long

Design inspiration:

See existing Ziflow ads

Copy to be included:

Deliver exceptional creative work faster with Ziflow 

Priority:

Medium 

Deadline:

October 1, 2022

This briefing process transformed what was an ad-hoc step for project planning to a standardized process for the intake of new creative work. Within two weeks of implementing this template, our creative team’s workflow was much more organized.

Now, our Creative Project Manager can more efficiently prioritize the creative team’s overall workload and bandwidth, properly assign or shift work to each team member, and communicate more efficiently with stakeholders like Ziflow's CMO, CEO, Head of Product, and others. By working off of detailed and approved creative brief, the team can also avoid any distracting work or in-flight requests that are outside the original scope of the project.

Feel free to use this creative brief to start your own project planning!

How to use creative briefs 

Creative briefs are most effective as a living document that teams continually reference throughout the creative process.

  • Think of creative briefs as version 0 of a project. They kick off the entire creative workflow.
  • Store the creative brief as a document alongside iterations of project deliverables/creative work. If you’re using a creative collaboration space to review creative assets, you can embed the brief into each version. 
  • If you’re using automation for creative review, you can build approval workflows based on the deadlines and stakeholders included in the creative brief or project brief. 

The owner of the creative brief should consult it often to ensure that creative deliverables follow all guidelines and support the original goal. 

Streamline creative collaboration with creative briefs

Creative briefs help teams deliver exactly what clients want, but you still need a way to keep track of all supporting materials, asset versions, feedback, and approvals as creative work progresses. 

A creative collaboration platform eliminates time-consuming, back-and-forth communication about asset approvals. Learn how to use Ziflow to manage all client instructions, assets, and feedback. 

Katie Oberthaler

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