Every great project needs the right blueprint to succeed. Few major endeavours work without strong guiding principles to keep the process on track and moving smoothly. Creative teams are no exception, which is why a carefully considered game plan can be an inspirational force multiplier.

The creative brief is the primary document for outlining the scope of the project, deliverables (e.g. visual design, ad copy, digital assets), timing, and budgeting. By codifying all these variables and setting reasonable targets, the entire design process is given greater accountability and a better chance at achieving its goal.

Naturally, in making these decisions a lot of information is needed, so great briefs answer all the big questions in advance. Here are nine fundamental topics that should get coverage in your creative brief:

1. Why Are We Doing This?

The very first question that needs to be addressed is the most basic. Understanding the why of a project gives the background and context the creative teams will need to understand the more detailed information that comes later.

2. Who is the Target Audience?

Next, it’s wise to consider just how focused your project is going to be. Are you sending out a broad message to a mass audience or directing all your attention to one niche group Understanding your target market means researching their preferences, habits, and existing knowledge. Do they already have an opinion about you or the competition? Do they have any hot button issues that need to be avoided?

3. What is the Objective?

The creative team needs to know where the finish line is and how progress will be measured. Failure to delineate limits can lead to ‘mission creep,’ projects that just continue to expand, but never seem any closer to completion.

4. What is the Project’s ‘Single Message’?

If you had to distill the entire plan down into one sentence that encapsulated everything you are trying to say what would it be? Or, in other words, what is the one thing above all else you want the audience to take away? If you can’t find the essential crux of the plan, it’s doubtful anyone else will either. A helpful tip is to develop an ‘elevator pitch’ for the project: how would you explain the idea if you only had an elevator ride’s length of time to make your case?

5. What is the Project’s ‘Tone’?

Before delving into specifics such as communication strategies and positioning, build out your general boundaries such as the style and feel you want to shoot for. Tone choice is typically linked to the nature of the industry the project is aimed at. For example, B2C messaging is usually less formal and jargon-laden than B2C communications.

6. How Should the Message be Transmitted?

This question pertains to the specific deliverables that are going to be needed, such as websites, signage, logos, branded video content, etc. This is also where it’s best to consider the right channels for those deliverables. For example, will digital platforms reach your audience well, or should traditional media be the primary driver? In short, what are their main touchpoints?

7. What is the Timetable?

You can’t always sprint the whole way. Setting up milestones helps the team find a productive and efficient pace for the venture. They also need to be made aware of how many rounds or revisions the project is expected to undergo.

8. What is the Budget?

Time isn’t the only limited resource at stake. If you don’t outline how much money is going to be spent on the project with at least some degree of accuracy and specificity, the creative team won’t know how much time, effort, and resources to devote to it.

9. Who Gives the Final Okay?

After a requestor writes the initial brief, it’s up to the creative team to determine if the plan is something they want to tackle, but a creator director typically gives the final sign off. An efficient approval process ensures that everyone’s input is heard, but makes clear who the final authority is.

Final Thought

Specifics and preplanning make for effective creative briefs, but remember they also need to be ‘living documents’ that change over time as projects develop. Unforeseen events invariably pop up and plans need to be adjusted accordingly. Overly rigid briefs can leave a team working on tasks that are no longer helpful to the overarching mission. Smart briefs are just a well-thought out springboard for the project and include enough flexibility to adapt as the project itself evolves.

Great creative briefs are equal parts directional and inspirational without tying a creative team’s hands. Answer all the tough questions ahead of time and you improve your chances of avoiding misunderstandings before they occur and put in place the framework for creative brilliance and strategic problem solving.