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  • Writer's pictureBridget Ellis-Pegler

Sort Out Your (Creative) Briefs.

Navy briefs with white hearts.

Scope creep, vague goals, missing information, and miscommunication will SCREW UP YOUR PROJECT.

A guide for anyone commissioning a project involving creatives (graphic designers, writers, web designers etc.) And for any creatives working for clients on these projects.

Don't Get Your Knickers in a Knot.

It pays to be very careful about the undies you choose when you get dressed.

If your briefs are too small, you're up against squashed thighs, muffin-top in scary places, a grinding suspicion that you're overweight, and wedgies. If your briefs are too big, they're baggy and uncomfortable, and they might even cause you to feel (or worse, look) like you're going commando.

So, unless your persona is 'couch potato', you'll need different briefs for different situations.

Lacy black thong. And a doughnut.
Lacy thong with a random doughnut.
  • A hot date in clingy clothes needs knickers that won't cause a visible panty line.

  • A day in the boardroom presenting to tough clients calls for – whatever will get you through. For me, it's comfy cotton knickers, but hey, maybe you're more of a 'lacy thong' sort of person.

  • Serious cycling calls for comfort (hello and welcome, padded undies!).

Just as the wrong briefs can seriously wreck your day, the same thing is true for your projects.

Nail the brief, everything else falls into place, and your finished project will be:

  • on time

  • within budget

  • hassle-free

  • a huge success!

But get the brief wrong, and you'll probably get:

  • endless revisions

  • delays

  • budget overflow

  • 'meh' results.

The Numbers.

98.79999%* of creative briefs are mostly, if not completely, rubbish.

* Wild stab in the dark based on my 20+ years as a freelancer.

100% of the time, if clients are defining their target audience as something fluffy like 'Men and Women aged 25-55' - they actually have NO IDEA who their target audience is and what keeps the people in it up at night. Meaning - everything. You can't market to a faceless, nameless, personality-less entity.

Fact.*The vast majority of projects that go wrong can trace their issues back to the creative brief.

* Or so I've heard. My projects never go wrong because they're always based on stellar creative briefs.

So, what is a creative brief? It's a plan, Stan!

The creative brief is the overarching planning document for a project. It's got everything you need for the project to move from an abstract idea to a finished job.

Nobody can deliver quality work based on something they don't understand. So, a project needs a solid definition, a reason-to-be, goals, and a vision. The brief has to summarise everything and show how to achieve it. Start by stating WHAT the project is. E.g. Creative brief for a new home page. Yep, it's mind-bogglingly obvious, but you'd be surprised to know how many briefs don't include this info.

Who, where, what, when, why. how? The big questions the creative brief answers.

  • It states what the project is.

  • It explains why the project is needed.

  • It defines the target audience (properly!) - and plans how to reach the people in it.

  • It states the MAIN thing we want this audience to do (and secondary objectives, if applicable).

  • It communicates the benefit to the audience of doing this essential thing.

  • It states the project's business objectives and, if applicable, how success will be measured.

  • It includes everyone who will be involved in the project.

  • It covers how relevant information will be provided.

  • It says who's doing what - and when - including who is responsible for the final sign-off.

  • It covers contingencies.

A well-written creative brief gets everyone singing from the same song sheet.

Get Your Type-A Game On.

Piles of books stacked to reveal a peephole.

Writing a comprehensive creative brief is about meticulous project planning and careful research. Above all, it's about communication. The process involves gathering all the necessary information, clarifying expectations on both sides, agreeing on the project's goals and milestones, and making a list of all the steps needed to achieve this.

Anyone involved (both client-side and creative-side) must understand everything, including which deliverables are to be supplied and all deadlines.

Does that sound like effort? Good. It's supposed to.

But don't worry; it will pay off, big time. Asking the vital questions at the beginning will save you stress, drama and probably money later on.

Which shimmies us nicely into my big fat newsflash.

My Big Fat Newsflash.

The sooner the creative gets involved in the brief-writing process, the better.

So, if you're the type to write a brief, then hand it over to a creative, or have a quick chat or email conversation with the creative, then leave them to it, think again. If you're a creative and start projects without in-depth consultation, the same goes. You're doing this all upside down and inside out.

This is because neither of you understands the guts of the other's area of expertise. A business owner might know 'what' she needs (e.g. to modernise her website's visual look). But, only the graphic designer will know the specifics of 'how' to achieve that (update font, go minimalist, drive traffic to social media using contemporary visual cues, etc.).

Failing to do this step collaboratively is one of the easiest things to fix.

  • If you are a business and need to work on a project with a creative, make it the first step in your process.

  • If you're a creative and a company wants your involvement in a project, make it the first step in your process.

(Yeah, it's not rocket science).

Get together in person, or get on a call and work it out together.

When everyone is happy that the expectations are clear on both sides, one person should take responsibility for collating the findings from the meeting into a draft creative brief. Then, both sides can review the draft creative brief, tweak it as necessary, and sign it off. The project team now has a detailed road map for the project's execution. There's your plan, Stan.

You'll be mind-blown by the difference having a proper creative brief makes.

Wait. There's more?

More than just a road map. A creative brief gives you legal protection.

A signed-off brief means there is a clear written record of what you agreed. If the project goes off the rails, it is easy to identify issues and get back on track.

I use the creative brief as a reference point at every stage of my writing process.

  • Many times during my first draft to check I'm not missing anything.

  • Before submitting the first draft to the client.

  • As I work through any subsequent revisions.

  • Each time a new draft goes to the client until the completion of the project.

Those ghastly words, 'Can you just...?'

I also use the creative brief to protect myself. Sometimes, clients get excited and want to add to the project's scope. E.g., "While you're there, can you just write a quick paragraph on XYZ?"

That's great, but only in theory. It's only actually great when I'm paid for that extra work! Gently redirecting them to the brief and letting them know what the additional fee would be to add their request to the project's original scope works a treat in this scenario.

It works the other way, too - if I ever (horror of horrors!) failed to deliver something in the brief, my client would have solid proof of what I'd committed to.

Are you putting together turbo-effective briefs? Got anything to add? I'd love to hear your tips and experiences in the comments.

Need help writing a creative brief? Ping me.

Enjoying this (highly erratic) blog? Please let me know

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