How to write a creative brief

Creative ideas don’t magically appear from nowhere. If the average freelance copywriter, art director or designer relied solely on their creative muse, there’d be an awful lot of sitting around waiting for something to happen.

Great creative solutions start with a great brief
Ever tried coming up with an idea with nothing but a blank page as your starting point? That’s what it’s like working without a creative brief. If you’re employing a freelance copywriter or designer, you owe it to yourself and your budget to write a great brief. If you can sum up the following on one or two sides of A4, you should have everything you need. If you don’t have the time to clarify everything, then at least make sure you have points 1-6 thought through before briefing any freelance creative.

1) Background information
Assume the freelancer knows nothing about your brand, or even your sector for that matter. Arm them with everything they need to get to grips with what you do and what you are all about: annual reports, brochures, flyers, web addresses, press clippings and any industry insights that may be of use.

2) Clear objectives
What is it that you hope to achieve? This could be a fairly lengthy list, but you should prioritise. Perhaps you want your audience to sign-up to a newsletter, pick up the phone, make an online purchase, recommend you, follow you on Twitter, request a quote… If you know what success looks like to you from the outset, this will definitely help to steer your project in the right direction.

3) Target audiences
Who are they? What makes them tick? Why might they want to do business with you?
Do you have any useful stats? If the majority of potential customers are 18-24 Instagram addicts, or if they are chief execs who do their business at the 19th hole, your freelancer will need to know. The more they understand about your audiences, the more likely they are to come up with something that resonates with them.

4) What do you want people to think, feel and do?
When someone sees your piece of communication, what should their first reaction be? What do you want them to think about your brand and more importantly, on an emotional level, how do you want your brand to make them feel? Then ultimately, what do you want them to do (see point no. 2)?

5) What is your USP?
Ah, that old chestnut, the Unique Selling Proposition. The marketing Holy Grail, or should that be Oozlum Bird. If you have something unique to say, then assuming it’s something that can be used as a positive hook, then this is creative gold dust. However, if like virtually everyone else, you have no real USP as such, then what is the one thing that you want your audience to remember about you? It may well be something that all of your competitors can claim, but either you do it better than them, or they are concentrating on other selling points, leaving you with an open goal.

6) Tone of voice
How do you want your brand to come across? Corporate brand leader, no-nonsense professional adviser, an old friend you can rely on…? Every brand has a tone of voice (or at least it should have) and this needs to run through everything you do. Tone of voice will be equally important to an art director or designer, as it is to a copywriter.

7) Brand guidelines
Many organisations have a set of brand guidelines, unfortunately most gather dust. Don’t let this be the case with your organisation. If there are rules when it comes to using your logo, your freelancer will need to know. Similarly, do you have rules for using corporate colours, typefaces and imagery? When building a strong brand, consistency is everything.

8) Competitors
Unless your brand’s offering is totally unique, there will be other people out there vying for the attention of the same customers/advocates/members/supporters. So who are your competitors, which ones do you admire and why? What can we learn from them? What mistakes are they making that we should avoid?

9) Other brands
There may be brands out there doing things in a certain way, that although nothing to do with your sector, you admire. They may have a visual style that you like, a certain way with language or an attitude or personality that you might aspire to – John Lewis, Volkswagen, Apple, Shake ‘n’ Vac…

10) Content and functionality
This is particularly relevant when commissioning a new website. Content is, 99 times out of 100, the one thing that will delay the launch. Whether you are supplying draft copy for a freelance copywriter to edit, search engine optimised copy or a list of bullet points to work with, your site (or any other communication for that matter) is going nowhere without content. The real need for this may come further down the line in the design process, but nevertheless, don’t leave it until the 11th hour.

Functionality however, will need to be addressed right up front. Your freelance designer or web developer will need to know what your new website has to do. Will it be collecting data? Will it integrate with existing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software? Will there be E-commerce functionality, members’ login areas, blogs, social media integration…? Without this information, no one can give you an accurate estimate or get close to a creative solution that makes sense.

11) Deadline
It may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many briefing sessions I’ve attended where the client has no schedule in mind. If you need to hit a certain date in your calendar or there are media deadlines looming, this should definitely be in your brief, but schedules have to be realistic. Creativity takes time, copy needs to be crafted and snap decisions can sometimes prove to be expensive.

12) Budget
The $64,000 (wouldn’t that be nice) question. It would save a lot of time and effort, if along with all the other nuts and bolts; a realistic budget was part of the brief. Whether you decide to share your budget or not, having a figure agreed internally is essential.

If you don’t have the resources or expertise in-house to do some or all of the above, any decent freelance copywriter will be able to help guide you through the process, but this takes time, so the more groundwork you do the better. Even if you’ve written a beautifully buttoned-down brief, be prepared for your freelancer to bring a new perspective and challenge your thinking.

Should you have a creative brief you want to discuss, or if you need help putting one together, please get in touch.

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a freelance Copywriter, Art Director and Creative Director.
You can drop me a line here, or email jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk