In the creative industries, a brief is essentially an outline of the work that needs to be done on a project. They are drawn up in agreement with a client and are used as a guide by everyone working on the project.
What are briefs
The client brief is a document that is brought to an agency by a client. The document will usually be pretty detailed explanation of what the client wants. It will often include other materials that the client thinks may be helpful to the agency, such as recent research. The agency will use this, picking out all the important things, to write their own, simpler and more effective brief (at which point th client brief is as good as discarded).
Agency brief (creative/design/media)
The client’s problem is then distilled into an agency brief (most often referred to as a creative brief although you may also hear it called a design brief or media brief depending on where you are).
This brief will often cover a lot of strategic ground with decisions on the theme of the messaging and how to target the audience being made at this point. In an advertising agency, writing creative briefs is a key part of a planners role.
Once the brief has been written, it needs to be signed off by the client. Then it goes to creatives/designers/media planners to fulfil the rest of the work.
What's in a brief
Basic elements of an agency brief
Each agency has their own style of writing their briefs but these are the key elements that most should include.
- Reasons to believe
- Desired response
What the work is.
E.g. an integrated advertising campaign, a poster, a website, a media plan, etc.
What the work needs to achieve.
E.g. To increase awareness, to drive people to a website, to increase clicks, etc.
The group of people who the work will be talking to.
May include demographics (age, gender, income, location, etc) but psychographics (attitudes, behaviours, likes, dislikes) are often more important. A “day in the life of” may also be found here.
The look/sound/feel that the work should have.
A single-minded message that the work should communicate. True Digital describes it best: “the single most motivating and differentiating thing we can say about the brand or product to the target audience to make them act in the desired way.
A list of everything that will help the audience to believe the proposition. Could be anything, such as the brand and it’s history, the way you use a product, the spokesperson, the price, the way a product is distributed, where it is made, etc.
The way people should act, think or feel after seeing the work.
E.g. visit a website, tell a friend, like a Facebook page, etc.
The amount of money that’s available to spend on the work.
Anything that absolutely has to go in.
E.g. logos, brand colours, website URLs, deadlines, terms & conditions, phone numbers, etc.
Tips and advice
Many advertising/design university courses will have you answering briefs as you go along but very few if any will have you answering enough. Throughout your time at uni, you should be constantly working on briefs. Every time you complete one, start another. And for an experience even closer to agency life, try working on multiple briefs at once and giving yourself short deadlines.
We have a whole briefs section for you to practise with. Many of our briefs are open enough to allow you to answer them in anyway you like (depending on which role you want to get into).
Once you’ve finished a brief you should be left with something you’re proud of that you can put in your portfolio. But that shouldn’t be the end of it. Your next step should be to get talking to industry people to get feedback (you can easily find and connect to professionals using the FutureRising network). For more advice on portfolios and getting feedback, see our portfolio guide.
Tips for writing a brief
If your agency has planners or strategists, it will most likely be their job to write the agency brief. If not, it usually falls on the accounts team. A great brief is needed to inspire great work, so it’s essential you know how to write one.
- Keep it short. A good brief shouldn’t be longer than two pages.
- Get inside the heads of your audience. Before you can effectively communicate what they are like, you have know everything about them. You should be able to answer all the following questions and more. What’s their daily routine? What brands do they buy? Where do they work? What do they do in their spare time? Who do they associate with? Do they have a political preference? What is their attitude towards the product/brand that you are working on? Where do they shop?
- Objectives must be SMART. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound.
Tips for answering a brief
- Don’t be afraid to question the brief.
- After first reading the brief, get all your initial thoughts and ideas on paper and put them aside. This will clear your mind and help you to think more deeply about a solution.
- The brief may contain some research, but you should be doing your own research as well. View the company’s website, talk to users of the product, look at past work and work from competitors, etc.
- If you don’t understand something in a brief, ask the person who wrote it (that goes for our briefs too. Let us know if anything isn’t clear enough).
- Always look back and ask if what you’re doing is “on brief” (answers the brief). Otherwise you may find yourself going off track.
- If you have an amazing idea that isn’t on brief, don’t discard it. You may be able to pitch it to the client alongside the other work. Just be sure to complete the work that is on brief otherwise the client won’t be happy.
We've put together all sorts of weird and wonderful briefs to challenge you, make you better at what you do and to give you something to show off to employers. But if that's not enough, enter your ideas for our briefs and you can win some creative prizes. Our memeber agencies also submit briefs from time to time offering brilliant rewards such as internships. Head on over to our briefs page for more.
"Strategic Thinking For Advertising Creatives" by Alice Kavounas Taylor
This book, aimed at advertising creatives, takes you through each of the most important parts of a creative brief. At every stage the author offers up advice on how to write the brief, how to follow and interpret is and some great examples. Read our review of Strategic Thinking before buying.
"How to write a creative brief" by True Digital
A simple slideshare presentation to take you through the basics of writing a creative brief. Well worth a read whichever role you want to go into.