Working With An Agency – Creative Brief

Ed BurghardYou Get What You Deserve

One of the challenges in working with a creative Agency to develop lead generating advertising is to find the fine line between creative brilliance and effective communication. As much as Agencies would like you to believe that great advertising is an art, the fact is great advertising is also built on proven principles. It is as much a science as an art, and finding that fine line is a real challenge. But, when it is found the results can truly be remarkable and well worth the journey.

I have authored several posts about the subject of effective advertising. You may be interested in reviewing one or more.


Evaluating Advertising

Don’t Confuse Brand Promise and Advertising Campaign

Keeping Your Message Straight

But, one subject I haven’t written on previously is how to work with an Agency to get their best work. I thought I would start by discussing the importance of using a creative brief to ensure alignment on what you are paying the Agency to deliver.

The creative brief is a document that provides the Agency both direction and insight. And, if written well it can even provide inspiration.

Will Burns wrote a nice piece entitled “The Creative Brief and The Client’s Role In It” that was published by Forbes. Here are a couple of key points he makes that I think are spot on.

  • The audience for the creative brief is the creative team and not you.
  • The creative brief should provide guidance on priorities.
  • The creative brief should be short, ideally one-page.
  • The creative brief is a starting point; the resulting creative is the goal.
  • Every degree of freedom you take away in the creative brief makes the Agency’s job tougher.

Writing a creative brief is not easy, because it forces you to do a fair amount of brand introspection. I often found the discussions around whether a statement in the brief was supported by data or was simply an opinion to be the most difficult. Typically we found that there were information gaps we needed to close to reduce the risk of being wrong.

A creative brief is a strategic document. As such, you need to avoid being over prescriptive in the tactical guidance. The Agency needs room to recommend the best way to achieve your communication objective.

Like Belly Buttons, Every Agency Has One

If you don’t provide the Agency a creative brief, they will write one to guide the creative development. Every Agency has a format that they believe is the best. The truth is, most creative brief formats are essentially the same. If your Agency has one and their Creative team is passionate about the format, use it. Don’t quibble over format. If you believe it is missing key data, then provide the data separately. But, be certain you review and are aligned to the creative brief that will guide the work regardless of who writes it.

What Does One Look Like?

Here is a format that I have used and found to do the job well. A Google search of “creative brief” will come up with many more examples if you don’t like this one.  CLICK ON THE THUMBNAIL TO SEE FULL SIZE

Creative Brief

Let’s review the key elements. The copy is for illustration purposes only.

Communication Objective – Try to describe the problem you are trying to solve with the communication. If it is your main promotion, this section usually focuses on creating awareness or strengthening believability of your community’s core promise. But, if it is a more specific problem (like correcting a misperception or announcing a new asset) then describe it here. The better the Agency understands the problem, the better they can solve it.

Assignment – This tells the Agency what you are contracting them for.

Target – This section helps the Agency understand WHO [] you want to communicate with. A good understanding helps the Agency transform the message into the proper context and language. Prime prospects are a sub-group of your strategic target that you want to be absolutely certain is impacted positively by the creative execution. Key learnings provide perspective into how the strategic target thinks about the problem. Creative’s uses these learnings to brainstorm and test the feasibility of their proposed solutions.

Insight – The best creative executions are built around a deep understanding of what motivates your target’s behavior. This section provides perspective on the true nature of what your target wants/needs.

Benefit – This is the solution to meeting the target’s wants/needs. Typically it is your community promise.

Reason(s) To Believe – Proof that the benefits you are promising can actually be delivered. Often the RTBs in this section are selected for relevance to the strategic target.

Brand Character – Sometimes this is called brand personality. It is a reflection of the characteristics you want associated with your community’s persona. It tends to influence the tonality of the communication.

Mandatory Executional Elements – These are things you have decided must be present in the recommended execution. This list should be as short as possible because this is where you start taking away degrees of freedom from the Creative team.

Budget – This may seem obvious, but getting a brilliant creative execution you cannot afford is an absolute waste of time and money.


One question that often comes up is – How much time should be spent on the creative brief? It is a fair question. You need to spend enough time to ensure alignment between you and the Agency. And, that there is a consistent understanding of what you are contracting them to deliver. If you do not spend enough time ensuring clarity in the creative brief, then you shouldn’t be shocked when the proposed executions are off strategy. Net, you end up getting what you deserve.

Have you used a creative brief before? If yes, what has your experience been? Do you have any tips that will help ensure the creative brief provides appropriate direction to an Agency? If you work for an Agency, any guidance you would offer a client to ensure you get a good creative brief?

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