The importance of the creative brief

April 25, 2013
Jerry Higgins Creative Director

What does a creative brief give us? I asked my coworkers what they thought…

Good strategy is at the heart of all good creative. When you have a real insight that the client and agency agree upon, great work is easier to develop. – Dave Hanson, Senior Copywriter

“Accountability for the client and the agency. Measurements for evaluation. Justification for concepts. Most importantly, insight that can’t be achieved through reviewing a set of data.” – Stephanie Hungerford, Healthcare Account Supervisor

“A map.” – Doug Schommer, Senior Art Director

“Direction. That way, we can continually review it during a project – so we know we’re staying on-course with the goals and objectives for our client.” – Jenn Cooley, Art Director

“It helps bring clarity to the business problem and whom it impacts. We might discover the client needs more than just an “ad campaign” or a singular deliverable. I like to say the creative brief isn’t just input … it’s insight.” – Angi Krueger, Director of Marketing and Business Development

“It’s also a double check. It’s easy for me to go from one starting point and get carried off on one tangent after another. Having a creative brief keeps us on target so we’re not wasting efforts.” – Sara Neumann, Senior Designer

There is no debate on the importance of a properly conceived creative brief. Having all of the details clarified and the strategy agreed upon before the project begins gives everyone — the client, creative team, account executive — a roadmap to follow. But the brief can become so much more. I’d like to share what I think are the two most critical questions and the two most important observations we draw from a well-crafted creative brief.


Critical question one: What’s the single most important thing we want our customer to believe about us or our product?

The key to this question is the word SINGLE. One thing, not one thought that strings together three or four supporting facts that tend to water down the most important takeaway of the communication. Adhering to this strict guideline gives all involved a tightly defined place from which to start.

Observation one: The Creative brief sets limits that can be liberating.

At the beginning of a new project, or a new campaign, how many times have we heard, “The sky’s the limit. Be creative. Anything goes.”? We’ll think, “Hey, cool. We can do anything we want. We can go anywhere with this. There’s so many places we could take this! Ok, where do we start?”

And then paralysis sets in.

A well-conceived creative brief needs to help us drill down to that single most important thing, to set boundaries that will in fact open up the floodgates of creative ideas.

Critical question two: What’s the INSIGHT statement?

What’s the bright idea? What’s the compelling reason for the audience to choose your product or service over others? What one thought will make your audience believe in you and make them gravitate toward you, love you, come back for more and share you with others? What one thought could turn a product’s selling point into a movement?

Coming up with the insight statement is never easy. But it can lead to powerful headlines, smart taglines and ultimately solid campaigns that combine proper messaging with appropriate visuals and memorable design. The seed of all creative comes from a targeted insight statement born out of understanding the single most important thing.

Observation two: The Creative brief can be an exercise in big-picture thinking.

When those two key questions are considered and toiled over, we have a platform from which the sky becomes the limit and free thinking becomes possible. It’s a level of control … the difference between flying down the road at 120 mph in a 1970s muscle car or a finely tuned supercar. In one you feel reckless and all over the road … in the other you barely feel the road and you’re in total control.

When we come to agreement on the creative brief with our client and, particularly, the insight statement that will make them standout, it becomes so much more than just a laundry list of what needs to go into an ad or a TV spot. It can become so much bigger. It can define your business and take it to a whole new level. It’s a chance for you to stop and explore an important question

… “What kind of company do we want to be?”

Together, we uncover those insights and we start to think of the brand more deeply and holistically. We identify “what” you do and “how” you do it and eventually define the “why” you do what you do. For our clients, getting back to that “why” statement is a powerful reminder of why they got into business in the first place.

Uncovering the insight and identifying the “why” statement is an exercise in affirmation that allows creativity to flourish and enables us to develop a great campaign or concept around a core tenant of your business and identity.

It’s almost a mini brand discovery process that helps our clients express what they may have internalized.

It can be aspirational.

It can be mission defining.

And it can help create work that truly takes your brand to the next level.


With more than 25 years of advertising agency experience, creative director Jerry Higgins brings a wealth of knowledge to Core Creative and our clients. His work not only visually conveys messages that help elevate brands, it also serves as a benchmark for the agency’s creative standards and attention to detail.


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