How to write a Creative Brief for SMBs

on April 26th, 2010

If you’re a large company, you know the drill: you go to a large advertising agency, you get an account manager and a planner, they work with you to refine the creative brief for any advertising initiative and that, together with your years of marketing experience, ensure everything is swell. Sometimes at least.

But what if you’re a small start-up company? You’re still trying to do everything yourself – from sales, to accounting to marketing and everything else you can think of. You go to small design agencies; sure, they don’t have planners and such, but they are way more affordable.

Even if you’re further up the evolutionary scale, chances are you still don’t go to the big guys when it comes to your creative needs. And more often than not, unless your background is marketing, you come away thinking “They didn’t understand me; they did not do what I was hoping for”.

Why the disconnect?

Easy. No, it’s not (necessarily) because they’re rubbish. A bit of the problem lies with you as well, and the two things that really don’t help the creative process are:

  1. You don’t see why the brief is such a big deal. The reason the brief is so important is because money is going to be spent on the campaign that emerges from it. It is the point where your understanding of your business and your strategic plan reaches a creative team.
  2. Your strategic understanding has to be communicated in a form the creative people can use, so that it becomes both a useful tool and inspiration for the creative team. Creatives have their own way of communicating; you need to speak a language they understand and react to. And there is nothing to prepare you for that, apart from years of experience dealing with agencies.

So I thought what the heck, let’s see if I can help; explain how anyone can brief a creative agency to get the best result possible out of them.

The Limeshot Triad of Creativity

limeshot triad creativity How to write a Creative Brief for SMBs

First of all, let me introduce you to my briefing framework: the Triad of Creativity. It will make it easier for you to see what I mean.

Usually, the structure of a typical brief (be it a branding questionnaire or a full advertising brief) follows these outlines*:

  1. Why are we advertising, or what is the purpose of this creative exercise? What do we want people to think?
  2. Who are we talking to? Target group. Type and outlook of person, not just demographics. Their behaviour to respect to our objective.
  3. What are we saying? Proposition/main though plus support.
  4. How are we saying it? Tone of voice, brand identity.
  5. Executional guidelines. Things to avoid. Things you must do.
  6. Requirements. Media considerations/requirements. Timing. Budget.

It is very easy, with such a structure, to provide the creative team with nothing else but bare, dry facts.

This is where the Triad of Creativity comes in. When writing a brief for any creative exercise, try to keep in mind you need to provide content for each of the three areas:

Instruction / Intent

Keep this in mind: Creative Agencies want to be informed, guided and challenged, but not to be set impossible tasks or drowned in paperwork**.

What to write about:

  • Objective of the project.
  • Proposition: what are you trying to communicate/ Aim for a short, single-minded proposition statement. (Watch out for an article coming soon about Defining your Unique Selling Proposition – USP)
  • Target audience (be as descriptive as possible)
  • Background information about your business
  • Your brand background
  • Execution and media requirements. This varies across types of creative projects, but it refers to actual execution guidelines.
  • Timetable. Deadlines.
  • Budget. This is very important, as it will tell the creative team what type of media / printing processes / type of campaign to aim for or steer clear of.


Keep this in mind: any creative needs something to kick-start their creative muscle; and more often that not it is the story behind the brand or product that does the trick.

Why should your advertising or logo or business card be interesting if your brief isn’t?

  • Try using descriptors. I remember reading this example a while back: if I asked you whether you would like to meet my old uni flatmate or my tall Swedish friend who takes salsa classes and bakes fantastic cookies which one would you choose? The catch is they are actually the same person.
  • Tell a story that makes a creative dream. Try telling the story, as if you were telling it to your child. With children, you need to make a story exciting and compelling – if you ever tried telling a story and been told off by your kid for being dull you know what I mean.
  • Make a vivid impression. If storytelling is not your thing, demonstrate your product; bring a sample; give a compelling example of how it works.
  • Bring your personality to the table. If you’re a small business, chances are your brand is a little about you. If you tell a creative team a bit more about who you are and what makes you tick, it really helps creating a brand or ad that makes you proud.

Creative Freedom

This one doesn’t usually come up as a stand-alone element in any theory books. Not sure why, because it is massively important.

Keep this in mind: while a brief is a set of instructions, it is not a knitting pattern. It is not meant to be a step-by-step complete guide to reaching the creative outcome.

There is a delicate line between Guidance and Rigidity. After all, if you go to a creative, you are hiring them because they are specialists in creating. Which you are not. Let them do what they do best.

  • Do: give them suggestions; be prepared to give them creative latitude to expand your suggestion or offer you alternatives
  • Don’t: draw your exact ideas on paper and refuse to budge from them.

So there it is, my cheatsheet for writing a creative brief that will motivate and inspire an agency to do their best work for you. And remember:

Money helps, but ideas are far better.


  1. *Excellence in Advertising – The IPA Guide to Best Practice, Chapter 7, pp140
  2. **Roderick White, Warc Best Practice, January 2008
  3. Businessman photo courtesy of Shutterstock
  4. Woman asleep photo courtesy of Shutterstock


2 Responses to “How to write a Creative Brief for SMBs”

  1. [...] source: [...]

  2. [...] This is a close one. At least it has it's eyes open for creativity: How to write a Creative Brief for SMBs?..(via) [...]