How to write an effective creative brief (with templates and pro tips)

How to write an effective creative brief (with templates and pro tips)

Stop spinning in circles with repetitive meetings and edits. A good creative brief starts your campaign on a solid foundation and makes sure everyone is on the same page from the get go.

30 sec summary icon
30 Second Summary
  • Creative briefs are the foundation of a successful marketing campaign.
  • Key elements to include in your brief to ensure everyone's aligned: goals, audience, messaging, reference assets, brand guidelines, distribution, budget, timeline, and stakeholders.
  • Step by step guide on using AI generated brief tools
  • Best practices including having a clear goal, a balance between specificity and creative freedom, lots of visual references, and plan for optionality

Every successful marketing or ad campaign starts with a compelling creative brief. A key step in any marketing workflow, the brief maps out brand guidelines and creative ideas.

But without the right elements, briefs can create confusion, increase costs, and even delay deadlines. So how can you improve yours?

In this guide to writing an effective creative brief, we'll cover what you need to work smarter:

  • What is a creative brief?
  • 9 Essential elements of a creative brief
  • How to use creative brief templates
  • Best practices for writing an effective creative brief

What Is a Creative Brief?

A creative brief is both a strategic and tactical document that details the goals, concepts, and requirements for a marketing campaign or advertising asset. You might also refer to it as an outline, a framework, or a roadmap.

A brief sets the tone for the project. It also ensures that all parties are aligned on details. Think of it as the working document for all project stakeholders.

While stakeholders can update or revise a creative brief during the project, it’s essential to realign after making any changes.

Why are briefs so crucial for creative projects?

No matter what you call it, a brief can help you:

  • Clarify the purpose of the campaign. Why is it happening in the first place? Without a consensus, you may struggle to get buy-in from stakeholders.
  • Set expectations for the asset. What does the project aim to achieve? Without a clear goal, stakeholders can’t provide appropriate direction or effort.
  • Align internal and external stakeholders. How can you get everyone on the same page? Without alignment, stakeholders may disagree on anything from assets to outcomes.
  • Keep everyone accountable. Who takes responsibility for deliverables and outcomes? Without accountability, you may run into delays at key steps of the campaign.
  • Guide the creative team. What creative guardrails do you need to put in place? Without guardrails, the asset or campaign could cause damage to the brand.
  • Make measurement easier. How will you monitor success and confirm results? Without reports or metrics, you can’t confirm whether the project was successful.

When should you create project briefs?

A brief should set the scene for an ad asset or marketing campaign. So ideally, it's one of the first steps in your in-house or creative agency workflow process.

Think of it as a guide. If you map out this document at the very beginning of the project, stakeholders can continue to refer to it throughout the campaign.

Keep in mind that briefs aren't always set in stone. They can change as campaigns evolve, especially for long-term projects with many moving parts.

Who typically prepares campaign briefs?

It depends on the nature of the campaign and the team that owns the project. Here are two of the most common scenarios:

  • Brand managers often prepare briefs for in-house design teams and agency partners.
  • Creative agencies often produce briefs for clients, delivering them to internal stakeholders.

Team members with these roles often create briefs:

  • Creative Strategists
  • Performance Marketers
  • Media Buyers
  • Brand Managers
  • Marketing Managers

9 Essential Elements of a Creative Brief

When you write a creative brief, include basic elements to set expectations and clarify the scope. Use the list below as a framework. Then add more context as needed.

1. Goal or objective

Start with the main goal for the campaign or asset. What do you intend for it to accomplish? In other words, why are you proposing it in the first place?

Always tie goals back to business needs. Otherwise, stakeholders may struggle to see the reason for the project or the true value it will create.

For example, the goal of a Facebook ad may be to generate 500,000 video views—which you can use as a retargeting audience for a future sales campaign.

2. Target audience

Next, detail the audience you plan to reach and convert with the ad or campaign. This step is essential for setting clear, realistic expectations.

Ensure the target audience aligns with your company's or client's ideal customer. Be as specific as possible, using details like:

  • Demographics like location, gender, and age
  • Interests and affinities
  • Behaviors, such as device usage
  • In-market observations
  • Customer status

For example, your target audience may be women in their 20s living in North American cities of 1+ million people who are interested in fitness and have signaled plans to purchase new yoga gear in the near future.

3. Messaging

What will the campaign or ad say to the target audience? Explain what the messaging will convey and how you want the target audience to react.

Include details like tone of voice and potential taglines to make the concept as clear as possible for the creative team. Mention the call to action (CTA) so stakeholders can visualize the next steps.

For example, your messaging may aim to make fitness enthusiasts feel strong and empowered. Your CTA may prompt the target audience to visit your website to browse your products.

4. Creative assets

What will the creative assets look like? If you propose video content, how will the assets sound?

Be as descriptive as you can. But keep in mind that you don't have to rely on a description alone. The best creative briefs include visual examples for added context.

To clarify exactly what the creative team should produce, include details like:

  • Asset format (e.g., photo, graphic, or video)
  • Asset dimensions (e.g., 1080 x 1920 pixels)
  • Video length (e.g., 15 seconds)
  • Number of assets (e.g., you may need more than one version for A/B testing)

This section is important for guiding the creative team. But it’s also critical for setting expectations and getting stakeholders on board with the concept.

5. Brand guidelines

Now it's time to put guardrails in place to ensure the campaign or asset aligns with the brand. What guidelines does the creative team need to follow to produce on-brand assets?

Consider factors like:

  • Color scheme and fonts
  • Personality and tone of voice
  • Brand logo
  • Mission and values

6. Distribution plan

Where will the campaign or asset display? List all the platforms included in the project to set expectations and make measurement easier.

For example, the asset may be intended for a Facebook and Instagram ad campaign.

7. Budget

How much will the campaign or asset cost? Whether you're acting as the brand manager or the creative team lead, you need to be on the same page about pricing. You also need to get buy-in from your CMO.

Break down the total cost to clarify which portion goes to the team executing the project and which goes toward ad spend. For example, a $20,000 budget may include $5,000 for creatives and $15,000 for ad spend.

8. Timeline

Your timeline should include at least a few essential components. Depending on your digital marketing agency workflow, you may need to list other dates too.

Here are a few to start with:

  • When is the brief due?
  • When do you need to deliver the campaign or asset to stakeholders?
  • When will the campaign or asset go live?
  • How long will the asset or campaign run?

A clear timeline is crucial for keeping everyone accountable and ensuring the campaign goes live on time.

9. Internal and external stakeholders

Don't forget to list both internal and external stakeholders. By adding this information, you can ensure you've included everyone who needs to have a say so you'll run into fewer surprises later.

Who should you list? Include the:

  • Person who owns the brief
  • Brand manager
  • Creative or design team lead
  • Person who is responsible for signing off on the brief

How to Use Creative Brief Templates

Does your team produce briefs frequently? Writing each one from scratch can slow down your marketing campaign workflow and create bottlenecks.

Without a repeatable process, you're likely to:

  • Waste time creating a custom brief for every project
  • Forget key requirements, leading to extra edits down the line
  • Neglect to request all the assets you need, causing delays and last-minute work

When you use a template, you can simplify your in-house or agency process. A creative brief template allows you to:

  • Scale your creative pipeline and iterate rapidly
  • Manage multiple brands with separate creative requirements
  • Meet every campaign deadline and establish your team as a trusted partner
  • Confirm campaign scope and keep everyone accountable without missing a beat

If you're still wondering what you need to include in your brief, we've created a blueprint that will help build the foundation for effective ads.

Choose the right content creation tool

So what's the easiest way to develop a brief template? You can certainly use DIY tools like Google Docs to manage this part of your creative workflow process.

But there's a better way to streamline creative workflow management. With an AI-powered platform like Foreplay, your team can work even more efficiently.

Foreplay's brief template has the structure and the basic elements you need to map out creative projects quickly. All you have to do is fill in the unique details for each campaign.

But you don’t have to rely on written details alone. With Foreplay’s embedded SwipeFile, you can show ideas rather than write descriptions. As a result, it’s easier to clarify creative concepts and align stakeholders around the campaign.

Set up reusable brand profiles

Whether you manage in-house brands or partner with clients, setting up reusable profiles can save you a ton of time. Using Foreplay's template, you can create brand profiles with details like:

  • Color scheme
  • Fonts
  • Style guidelines
  • Voice or personality
  • Tagline
  • Mission statement
  • Website
  • Social media profiles
  • Logos and other static assets
Foreplay creative brief template - brand guidelines

Whenever you create a brief for a new project, you can link a saved profile with one click. Since you won't have to reenter all the basics, you can get to the good part (i.e., creative ideas) faster.

Clarify campaign scope

Every campaign you produce will be different from the last. Yet most will require the same general types of inputs.

Foreplay's brief template lets you add the inputs you need without requiring unnecessary details. For example, you can add:

  • Descriptions to outline the campaign purpose and objective
  • Duration to clarify how long the campaign will run
  • Platforms to specify the distribution channels
  • Style to explain the type of content to create
  • Products to list the items to promote
Foreplay creative brief template - creative guidelines

Each module has preset fields so you can easily add essential information using the right format. If needed, you can also add custom details by writing freeform.

Monitor campaign status

With a reliable brief template, you don't have to worry about projects falling behind or campaigns getting lost in the shuffle. Foreplay's template has built-in deadlines and status trackers to streamline your marketing workflow.

Foreplay creative brief template

Set a deadline at the very beginning to keep your team's marketing workflow process on track. Then update the status as things progress to keep your team in the loop.

Add creative inspiration

The creative concept is arguably the most important part of any brief. Without a compelling concept, you'll be back to square one.

It's often easier to pitch a concept when you have creative inspiration to back it up. Yet sourcing, saving, and sharing these ideas tends to be a disconnected process. 

For example, you may take screenshots or grab links from the TikTok ad library and save them externally before manually adding them to the brief.

With Foreplay, the process is a lot simpler. You can download Facebook ads directly to your swipe file—where you can continue to view them even if the ad is no longer live.

Foreplay creative brief template - creative inspiration

Then you can insert saved ads from your swipe file to your brief without switching between platforms. Stakeholders can see your ideas and understand exactly what you envision for the new campaign.

Share with stakeholders

A creative brief doesn't offer much value if you can't share it with team members. Once you've filled in the template with all the necessary details, you can collaborate with team members to update and track the brief.

You can also share it with internal or external team members for approval. Since you can share Foreplay briefs via URL, there's no need to worry about onboarding clients or other creative team members.

Storyboard, script, and review creatives

Sometimes, you'll wait for approval before moving forward with storyboarding and scripting. But in other cases, you may need to provide these details before sharing the brief with stakeholders.

Either way, you can add creative ideas to your brief using Foreplay's template. To speed up your design team workflow, you can use Foreplay's AI tools to produce both scripts and storyboards.

To create a video script in less than a minute, all you have to do is choose a video from your swipe file as your inspiration. Then you can input details about the company, target audience, and messaging.

Foreplay creative brief template - script generator

With the AI scriptwriter, you can easily create a first draft. Then you can edit it to fit the campaign and brand guidelines perfectly.

Foreplay creative brief template - storyboard template

To speed up your storyboarding process, use Foreplay's templates. You can choose from standard formats like AIDA (attention, interest, desire, action) and PAS (pain, agitate, solve) to draw on tried and true storytelling structures.

Best Practices for Writing an Effective Creative Brief

Even with a template, the briefing process can still hit snags. Use these best practices to make the process as smooth and as repeatable as possible.

Distill it down to one goal

Does your creative proposal seem a little all over the place? If stakeholders can't understand what the project will accomplish and why they should greenlight it, they probably won't.

Before finalizing a brief, do a final read-through to ensure it focuses on a single objective. If it doesn't pass the test, distill the brief down to one goal before sharing.

Be specific but leave room for interpretation

With a thorough brief template, you can get incredibly specific with your creative direction. While guidelines are helpful, an overly prescriptive brief can lead to lackluster ads.

"Be specific enough that your creators or designers get the idea. But be general enough that they have room to bring their own life, personality, and creative spin to it. It will make your creative more authentic," shares Sam Al Esai, Foreplay Account Executive.

Always include references

It doesn't matter how great of a writer you are. An entirely text-based brief can never quite convey your creative concept. That's why using references is crucial.

"Don't just assume your description of a shot or performance is enough. Provide a visual reference so others can best replicate it," Sam suggests.

Adding visuals is easy with a creative workflow solution like Foreplay. You can attach existing ads directly to briefs to show (rather than tell) your vision.

Plan for failure

Even the best briefs and the strongest creative teams can run into issues. That's why planning for failure is crucial.

"Request backup lines, shots, and designs if things don't go according to plan," Sam suggests. "You don't want to be short one shot a day before the deadline."

Avoid confusing briefs with strategies

On the surface, creative briefs and marketing strategies seem similar. Both cover goals, tactics, and competitive research related to a marketing or advertising initiative.

Yet the two documents have completely different scopes:

  • A brief describes a creative asset or a campaign
  • A strategy has a much broader scope that may include several campaigns

Before you sit down to do the work, ensure you understand the scope. Then use the right template to create your proposal more efficiently.

Final thoughts on writing an effective creative brief

A well-structured creative brief can dramatically improve your team's process. With the right marketing workflow tool, you can transform how you produce briefs and how you work with stakeholders.

Ready to streamline your creative process? Sign up for Foreplay and start creating better briefs faster.

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Anna Sonnenberg

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