The Creative Brief: 10 Steps to a Better Project

by David Leland

There’s nothing unusual about having a writing project thrown in your lap at the last moment – there’s no getting around that fact of life. You can, however, gain a measure of control by looking beyond the deliverable you’ve been assigned- brochure, white paper, case study, etc. – and focusing, instead, on developing a creative brief that lays out your client’s communication goals.

That’s right. There is another way of doing business that precludes sweating bullets as you furiously jot down contact names and due dates, all the while trying to guess what your client is really attempting to accomplish with the project. A well thought-out creative brief defines and quantifies your efforts, while providing an agreed-upon set of expectations.

Clients will love you for it, too. A creative brief (usually kept to two pages unless a project is really huge) helps them organize thoughts, align messaging and identify the right tool for the job. Often times, the deliverable will even change after you explore what’s at stake. For example, I’ve had clients that approach me with an expensive print project, when a straightforward e-mail blast might be a more cost-effective way to approach the problem.

Here’s what I’ve found are the necessary ingredients of a well-thought-out creative brief.

  1. Identify who will be approving the messaging and the deliverables. On a separate line, include a list of people who will be informed of the project, but will not be a part of the approval process (for example, a marcom project might include PR types who could use the deliverable with the press.) Your client’s boss may also want to stay informed.
  2. Write a short overview/background of the project as a whole. Include any recent history that’s germane to the effort as well as market analysis that supports spending money. A side benefit of the overview is that it helps you, the writer, gain a better understanding of the subject.
  3. Define your Marketing Objective(s). These should be quantifiable and measure Return of Investment (ROI). Figure out a way to measure the effort that’s scientific. A call to action is an obvious way to measure ROI. More subtle ways include quantifying visits to a Website or the number of people who sign up for a specific program after your delivery date.
  4. Use bullets to list your communication objectives. You don’t need to go into great deal about supporting the aims (this comes later), but make sure you put down what you are trying to accomplish (awareness of a program, a product, engineering expertise, etc).
  5. Define your target audience(s). Who are you talking to? If I’m writing for engineers my writing voice will be quite different than if I’m composing for a chatty sales person.
  6. Single Essential Proposition (USP): Find one thing (don’t cheat and put down two things spliced with a comma) that makes your project special. The sentence doesn’t have to be great grammar and it’s not a headline. For example, ‘Company A has a winning track record that provides total solutions to solve hospitals’ IT challenges. That pretty much contains the essence of the effort without going into any specifics. Keep in that the USP should be SMART – Strategic, Measurable, Aligned, Realistic and Time bound.
  7. Expand on the Target Problem/Opportunity. Define what challenges your audience is facing and why this particular marketing effort will help solve this dilemma.
  8. Support points. Here’s where you go back to your communication goals and take them one by one and provide critical evidence.
  9. List your deliverables. It’s easy to see how these may have changed after you’ve exercised due diligence.
  10. Timeline: Be realistic about how long each deliverable will take to reach completion.

Keep in mind that a creative brief will most likely go through several rounds of approval. That said, the process shouldn’t slow down the process. Indeed, by taking the time at the beginning of the project, you will deliver cogent messaging that will bring you back increased business and satisfied clients.

Copyright (c) 2003 by David Leland. All Rights Reserved.


About the author:

David Leland, Principal of The Leland Group, has been providing clients with creative marketing copy for 15 years. All of the samples on his Website ( went through the creative brief process. Reprinted by permission from :


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