The never-ending quest to improve productivity can have a fairytale ending when teams maximize a simple and powerful tool: the creative brief outline.

One of the biggest challenges for collaborators in any business is to get—and keep—people on the same page. A creative brief exists for just that purpose. It provides a medium to clarify project goals and details and share them with key team creatives while putting in place key “cover your butt” measures. A creative brief outline also provides a way to navigate the messier parts of collaboration on big, complex projects with multiple moving parts and people.

In fact, Ad Age surveyed more than 1,200 C-level agency executives around the world and asked them to rank clients on topics including integration, procurement, compensation, and consolidation.

When it came to creative briefs, those surveyed said, “Agency assignment briefs were a major problem area, highlighting the old ‘garbage in, garbage out’ mentality. Most agencies reported some level of frustration regarding the quality of assignment briefings: 53% found briefs complete but lacking in focus; 27% found them incomplete and inconsistent; 20% found them complete and focused most of the time; and zero respondents found them complete and focused all the time.”

Now, more than ever, teams need to orchestrate and distribute brand campaigns that include multiple media options, timed deliverables, and collaboration efforts with creatives located all over the globe.

So is your team doing all that?

Where to Start

If you want to improve the creative working relationships you have with internal teams, it’s easier than you think.

At the start of any project, ask a few essential questions of key content stakeholders before you do anything else.  

  • What problem needs to be solved?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • What product, service, or solution will solve the core problem?

Clarity around these aspects is at the heart of any project success. These questions work for any project type and help get everyone on the project aligned with the main objectives.

Clarifying this step first makes it so much easier to map out goals and specific strategies to meet core objectives. In addition, a creative brief outline helps team members manage multiple projects clearly and effectively, which is often part of a normal workload in creative marketing teams.

At its simplest level, a creative brief outline is like framing for a house. Without a solid foundation, nothing will stick! So, how do you want to build your house? Here are some tips.

7 Elements of a Kick-Ass Creative Brief

Even with the best of intentions, it’s easy to fall into the trap of making a long, sprawling creative brief with too much detail and unnecessary information.

A good creative brief outline should guide creatives to stay focused on core project goals. It should also serve as a go-to document for project details while inspiring people to take ownership of their roles. With a main objective front and center in the document, start setting other essential support goals for deliverables, timelines, resources, and talent to meet it.

Think of it as the gatekeeper of a communications and marketing goals. What action do you want people to complete, and how can you outline it in a way to make sure it gets done? How can you write clear directives and organize information within the creative brief outline in a logical order of getting things done?

Remember, with the fast pace of digital marketing, it’s essential to make this type of anchor document easily accessible and ensure each team member is responsible for updating their portion with the latest developments as needed.

1. Short and Sweet, Please

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is to keep your creative brief, just that—short, sweet, and to the point. To put your best foot forward, start with core blocks of essential information. Then set specific goals and responsibilities for each.

In other words, take those three key questions you asked stakeholders (listed above) and use the answers to distill down the details into workable components.

2. Documented Communication Style

Each target audience requires a particular communication style that should be included in the creative brief outline. Spell out the specifics so they can be reworked to build the key messages that set the tone for all communication tools.

Be sure to include any specific keywords and concepts that further support the overall voice and tone. Include details that help guide basic requirements for the graphic design, photographs, videos, and social media that you’ll use to execute and promote the project.

Together, all of these independent things need to be saying the same thing in the same tone to provide a clear, consistent picture in all media channels and provide relevant calls to action.

3. List Key Stakeholders

Projects need experts and someone to take ownership to lead the way. A creative brief outline should clearly indicate who’s steering the boat and who’s a direct connection to much-needed guidance in case there’s a snafu.

Don’t leave people guessing who they need to turn to, and don’t overload already busy managers with more stuff to oversee.

Choose stakeholders that will be an active part of the process, and ensure they’re listed in each corresponding section.

4. Find the Talent  

A job well done is only as good as the talent who created it. Be mindful of what type of creatives you need to meet goals quickly and easily. Are those people available on-staff? Do you need to hire freelancers with certain areas of specialty?

At the bare minimum, brands will need a graphic designer, copywriter, web developer, videographer, social media strategist, and marketing person who is a pro at building effective sales funnels.

With lots of creatives in the mix, a creative brief outline becomes invaluable in keeping people in their lane and providing the details they may need from a team member to complete their task.

5. The Devil’s in the Deliverable Details

Here’s the area of the creative brief where it’s time to document exactly what needs to be created and who’s going to do it.

Do the deliverables match a specific project goal? Who’s responsible for completing one phase and passing it onto the next person? How many revisions are needed and who’s going to complete and approve them?

An easy way to approach this is to call out each large deliverable then add a bulleted list of what’s needed and by whom for each.

Example Website Copy:

  • Two to three paragraphs of text, three sentences in length
  • Use main keyword three times
  • Pass along to the manager for revisions
  • Additional specs
  • Due date

Some deliverables are more complex than others and need a lot of detailed specs like color palette for brand materials, image sizes, or logo specifications. If your brand does not yet have a style guide, think of creating one to simplify processes and save time.

Which brings me to one of the cornerstones of a creative brief…

6. Reasonable Timelines

Timelines are the backbone of a project and should be laid out plainly in a creative brief.

Include time windows if specific days are not possible, but each deliverable needs to have a due date, as well as a sign-off date. These will signal to teammates what needs to be done to hit the deadline and how things may be delayed if something is not completed for the next phase of development.

7. A Budget You Actively Manage

Nothing gets done when the money runs out, so brands need to set budgets to guide the workflow. In life, some things may pop up unexpectedly, so it’s important to have a little give in the budget. In turn, some areas may end up costing less than expected, so they can pad the budget.

It doesn’t have to be extensive, but managers need to know how much to spend on hiring talent and reaching out for specialty items like printing or trade show booth preparations.

No matter how your team approaches a creative brief outline right now, these tips can get you thinking about ways to improve or streamline the process. Start simple and use this outline as a tool to make sure your team develops a document that serves a purpose and doesn’t add to the marketing noise.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to get the latest news, tips, and tricks in B2B marketing.

Katrina Pfannkuch

About Katrina Pfannkuch

Katrina Pfannkuch is a creativity consultant specializing in writing, editing, strategy & coaching. She's a bit of a data nerd & loves seeing how pieces of the informational puzzle come together to paint a creative picture. Catch Katrina & her insights on kick-starting creativity at @creativekatrina on Twitter.