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Seasoned creatives explain the art of writing an effective creative brief.

Guides & Inspiration • Written by Catherine Graves, Global Head of Marketing

Crafting a creative brief may seem straightforward, but the impact of getting it right – or getting it wrong – cannot be understated. The brief plays a crucial role in guiding the entire creative process from concept to execution.

According to research from Better Briefs, 80 percent of marketers think they’re good at writing briefs; but only 10 percent of agencies agree. As a result, an estimated 33 per cent of marketing budgets are wasted on poor briefs and misdirected work. As Sir John Hegarty said – “Writing bad briefs is the most expensive way to write advertising”.

So to help demystify the art of crafting effective briefs, we asked seasoned creatives from our global network – who respond to creative briefs every day – to share their insights into what makes or breaks a brief. 

Who better to guide you on improving your briefing skills, fostering stronger creative partnerships, and ultimately producing more impactful, effective content? Read on to learn their advice.

A successful creative collaboration demands thoughtful decisions from the outset. Before you start writing your brief, there are a few key decisions you need to make. 

Where will the content be used? 

Providing a list of deliverables and the destination for your assets may seem like a no-brainer, but media plans these days are so complicated, it can feel like cracking the code to a lost ancient language. It’s increasingly important for marketers to understand the impact that requesting different formats can have on production. 

Jack Murgatroyd, Co-Founder and Director of Hunt House Pictures in Los Angeles says, “It’s always discouraging when a client wants a project to be optimized for both 16:9 and 9:16. These are very different formats and require their own particular framing and approach to shooting. It’s not a simple ask to do both.” He suggests that where both formats are important, indicate which one is the priority so they can focus on optimising that version. If both are a priority, it’s best to budget so creative teams can have more time to shoot both formats.

Providing the intended use for each deliverable and prioritising aspect ratios will make the production process smoother and lead to stronger outcomes. Beyond the aspect ratio, here are a few additional tips when it comes to determining your deliverables:

  • Avoid the dreaded scope creep. Be realistic about the number of assets you need and the breadth of your campaign from the start, and only brief for what you’ll actually use so you’re not paying too much and wasting time.
  • Adapting big brand campaigns for social is a great way to get started, but using a platform-first approach can really improve performance outcomes for your content. With placements like TikTok, Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts, assets need to feel native, be authentic and utilise platform trends – so they may need to be produced from scratch.

What’s your budget?

Budget is a major decision and one that needs to be carefully determined. Leslie Preyer, Creative Director at Cyclone Creative in Melbourne says “The budget is always very important. It helps us be realistic about what’s possible from a creative standpoint”.

Our creatives also highlighted the need to be realistic with the brief you’re providing and the budget you have. The Genero team can help you determine an appropriate budget for the content you need if required, but here are a few things to keep in mind that can have an impact:

  • The length, complexity and number of deliverables
  • The number and type of talent and locations required
  • How open you are to different creative approaches
  • Opting for animation or live-action
  • Requesting simpler vs more complex animation styles
  • Creating original content or optimising existing assets
  • Using specific talent, voiceover or music – which can get more expensive depending on the media usage required.

Image courtesy of Cyclone Creative.

What does success look like? 

Be clear on your overall objective and the ambition of the activity.

“Are we raising brand awareness? Are we strengthening brand loyalty? Are we converting sales? If there are projects from the past that have done really well, please share those with us and let us know what worked”

Jack Murgatroyd, Co-Founder and Director of Hunt House Pictures

Sam Hooper, Managing Partner at Cyclone Creative recommends focusing the answer to this question on the shift in consumer behaviour you’re aiming to achieve, rather than more obvious objectives like ‘more sales, more customers, etc.’

Colin Jones, Creative Director at Goodship Studio in London says “Sometimes the brief provided isn’t the best way to achieve the results a client wants”. Being clear on your objective can iron out any of these issues from the start. 

Do you require sourcing?

Explaining exactly which elements of a shoot are pre-arranged can save time in the briefing and pre-production process. Leah McKissock of La Di Da Films explains “It’s helpful to know if the client will be providing the product, location or materials needed or if the production company will need to source these things themselves. We also like to know up-front if there’s an expectation that the product will need to be touched up with Visual FX or require special compositing or clean up in post-production”. 

Prioritise key information.

Think about your information hierarchy, and only include the most important information at the top. Andrew McLaughlin, Art Director​ at Cyclone Creative says:

“In reality, the more information you add in a brief, the less you get. Structure your brief by good to know, and most important. Less relevant information should be pared away to reveal the most relevant”. 

Ang Geck Geck, a Director in Singapore adds, “Sometimes there’s too much information and we’re not sure what the focus and direction should be. It’s helpful if the client can prioritise from the top to least important”. 

Leslie Preyer recommends being selective with the information you include – “Overloading the brief with insignificant information about your brand can confuse and dilute your briefs and in the long run, dilute the ideas”

Remember, supporting information that may give helpful context can always be added as attachments or additional reading. 

Brand personality and guidelines.

Jack Murgatroyd finds it helpful when clients give a sense of their brand personality in the brief. “Are you friendly and approachable? Are you confident and serious? Are you tongue-in-cheek? Even if the tone of this particular project is aimed to be different, knowing the overall tone of your brand will spark ideas for how we can execute on a particular project.

Either in your brief or as a follow-up once the project is green lit, it’s best to be prepared to provide information like brand guidelines, decks, style guides, fonts etc. Being prepared with these documents can either provide a more tailored response to your brief or ensure a smooth start once creatives are commissioned.

A single-minded proposition.

A single-minded proposition is a strategic approach that focuses on conveying a specific idea to your target audience. It’s essentially the springboard for ideas, which is why it needs to be single-minded. Leslie Preyer recommends this approach and says “It’s a human truth, that in the real-world people don’t have the head space to process a lot of information and therefore briefs should be single-minded in their approach. What is that one important thing you are trying to tell your customer?” 

Colin Jones supports this idea:

“For us the proposition is the most important part of a brief because it serves as the foundation for the entire comms, defining the target audience, guiding the creative concept, differentiating the product or service, and ensuring consistency throughout. It outlines the most compelling message to give the target audience to engage them to make a behavioural change. By focusing on the proposition, we can create effective creative assets in any channel that leave a trail of breadcrumbs for the viewer back to the same core message.”

Image courtesy of Cyclone Creative.

Image courtesy of Landot.

Consumer insights.

Consumer insights can provide purpose and relevance, and steer a creative project toward resonating with the intended audience. Leah McKissock says that you should “include any information or key insights you have about your customers (or the customers you’re trying to capture with this piece of content). Often media agencies or those helping place your ads might have additional insights. Does your audience have interests in self-improvement, comedy TV shows, life hacks, nutrition, sustainability etc.?” 

Sam Hooper acknowledges that while clients might not always provide these insights, they are invaluable in shaping the creative solution. “Sometimes there is some work on the agency side to research & distil a consumer insight that gives reason and logic to the proposed creative solution.” 

If you’re unsure of the consumer insight you want to tap into, consider providing space for the creative team to tackle this in their approach. 

Creative direction.

Providing creative thought-starters or existing ideas can be extremely helpful in establishing an initial direction, especially alongside things you know you don’t want. Nicita Amy Botha, founder at NAC and Me, says mentioning any “restrictions (what they cannot do or do not like) seems counterproductive but when a client says “no red, no bold text, no illustrations” it really helps create a clearer picture”. 

Go beyond demographics. 

Explaining the mindset of your target audience can elicit more powerful results than demographics alone. Sam Hooper explains:

"The target audience mindset is critical for helping creatives see the problem we’re trying to solve through the eyes of the audience. Often the target audience is based on demographics (age, gender, socio-economic, etc.). But when you describe the life/dreams/desires/aspirations of the audience, we can leap into their world and develop a creative solution that’s relevant and connects emotionally."

Relate this information to your assets.

Nicita Amy Botha finds that clients can easily miss the mark when explaining their target audience, often copying the info from their brand book. “It is not helpful to know that their target audience is “Jane who is a pescatarian” when we’re making a motion advert for coffee pods. If the client can rework their target audience so that it’s more targeted at the TYPE of assets we are creating, that would be helpful. Ie. Selling Coffee Pods  – Jane, eco-friendly, enjoys a good coffee with her book at home. OR Jane, has kids, manic mornings, and needs the easy, good coffee. The above paint a picture of two very different assets, and are specific to what we are selling.” 

Image courtesy of La Di Da Films.

Be selective. 

To make the most of your budget, it’s important to be selective with who you’re looking to target. Leslie Preyer says that not being realistic about who you need to target can “lead to the campaign objectives not being met and an idea being so generic and safe – it isn’t effective and resonates with no one”.

Describe how you want to make your audience feel.

This sounds simple but it can have a huge impact on the final outcome. Jack Murgatroyd says “Understanding the emotion you’re hoping to capture with a particular project helps us on both a macro and micro level when it comes to shaping our approach to elicit that emotion. Are we going after happiness? Love? Awe? Comfort? Rebelliousness? It’s totally fine if there’s a mix of emotions involved but knowing how we want to make the audience feel will shape everything from our casting to locations to lighting to camera moves to colour correction. All these elements are tools in honing the particular emotion we want to craft”.

Visual references play a critical role in expressing a client’s vision and enhancing clarity. Here are some tips on getting them right. 

Select references that are in line with your budget.

Jack Murgatroyd says “References are always helpful and definitely help us understand the look and feel you’re going for. Please keep references realistic though. Don’t show us a $1M campaign if your budget is $50k.”

There may sometimes be a reason to provide a reference that’s clearly outside the project budget – perhaps you’re highlighting a particular motion design style or tone of voice for example. If this is the case, just mention this in your brief. If you’re unsure about whether a reference fits your budget, just ask the Genero team – our production experts are happy to provide advice on this.

Image courtesy of Hunt House Pictures.

Explain why you’re including a reference and make them clear. 

Nicita Amy Botha says “Whether it be images, videos, or other brand profiles, even if it is one clip from a montage reel, visual references with a simple description, i.e. “This picture but red” or “That motion but slower”, really helps us create a clear picture. Words can often become murky, and we find a lot of clients have difficulty using the correct words to express their vision”. 

Henrique Souza, Client Manager, LANDOT in Brazil adds that “We’ve missed references regarding what clients want with the brief. Having these clear is very important for a good understanding of the client’s desires”.

Also provide references of what you don’t like.

Colin Jones highlights that sharing examples of what you don’t like or directions you don’t want to go in can be just as important as providing references of what you love in your own or other categories.

Before launching your brief, and throughout the selection process – there are a few key things to remember to ensure a smooth, collaborative process. 

Be honest if knowledge is lacking.

Creatives don’t expect you to be a production expert. Luckily, if you’re creating through Genero, you can lean on our team where your knowledge is lacking – but either way, it’s always best to be honest about areas you’re not fully across. 

Nicita Amy Botha says “If a client is looking for a video for Instagram or TikTok and has no understanding of the platform, it can be very restrictive. The lack of knowledge around music rights, Reel and Story length, aspect ratios and safe zones, can cause a lot of back and forth and explaining. If the client could stress upfront whether or not they have that understanding, and then be willing to be flexible when it comes to concept and delivery, that would result in great assets.” 

Get sign-off before launching your brief. 

This is an important one, as not doing so can waste a lot of people’s time and effort. Colin Jones requests that clients  “Take the time to share your brief with your line manager/decision maker/the wider business before asking creators to spend multiple stages exploring a wrong direction.”

Image courtesy of La Di Da Films.

Be realistic with your schedule.

At Genero, we’re well equipped to turn around briefs to a tight time frame. However if you have the space, allowing ample time can be beneficial. If you’re unsure exactly how long to allow for each stage of production, our team can help you determine what will work best. Keep in mind that where commissioning decisions are delayed, the delivery date should also be pushed back. 

Jack Murgatroyd says “Unrealistic deadlines are discouraging from the start of the project and can add stress to both our side and the client’s side. The more time we have to produce and complete a project, the better and less stressful it will be”.

Communication is key. 

Beyond the brief, it takes a lot of time and effort to pitch on creative projects and it’s not always possible for creatives to chat to you before they send through their pitch. That’s why on Genero, the Q&A feature is so important. Keeping a close eye on that and replying promptly can have a big impact on the quality of submissions. Additionally, providing feedback to creatives who aren’t commissioned, particularly if they’re shortlisted, is extremely valuable. Ang Geck Geck said, “Even when we were rejected for some of the proposals we did, we appreciated the feedback”.

In summary.

A well-structured and thought-through brief can mean the difference between success and wasted resources. It’s important to remember that the work you receive is only as good as the brief that you provide.

Remember to keep your brief simple, and ensure the key information is very easy to find. Prioritising clarity on content use, budget, objectives, and audience insights while fostering open communication and collaboration throughout the creative process will in turn lead to a more efficient and effective creative process – and better content!

If you have a brief in mind that you’d like to discuss, our team are here to help. Simply click here to get in touch.

Image courtesy of Cyclone Creative.


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