How to Make a Better Brief

By Egotist / /

So in all our time in the advertising world, there’s one thing we hear repeatedly – creatives complaining about bad briefs. So instead of listening to you all complain even more, we’re decided to do something about it.

We asked some of the top creatives in SF what to do. We didn’t want a bitch session. We were looking for honest, ingenious, creative ideas. And we got them.


Josh Denberg and Paul Hirsch – Creative Directors at Division of Labor
When writing a brief, planners should keep one really important thing in mind: Creatives are not as smart as planners. We are dumb. We are easily distracted by shiny objects. Obscure references confuse us. And we didn’t read that book by that guy.

If you make it in any way complicated, we’ll be confused. Or our egos will kick in and we’ll say, “It’s shit” when really we just don’t understand it.

So keep it simple. Not simple for you. Simple like telling an 8-year-old how to wash dishes. Simple like helping your stoned friend put a coat on. Simple like giving instructions to the guy at Kinkos.

Make one point, then repeat it. If your brief gives us a tiny box to work in, we can’t wander off and get lost.

Marty Senn – Creative Director at Goodby Silverstein & Partners
There are a couple of things you can do about a bad brief. The first is to remember that it’s an editable document. It can be changed, revised, expanded upon and even scrapped altogether. Go talk to your planner about it. Chances are, he or she sits nearby, is British, and knows more about music than you do. So regardless of the brief, it will be a good conversation. Tell him (or her) that, despite its possible brilliance, this particular brief isn’t opening up creative avenues in the way you had hoped. And then talk about why. Planners actually like talking about these things.

You also have the option to completely ignore it make something so tear-inducingly brilliant that everyone forgets what the brief was in the first place.

Best to try both.

Tyler Hampton – Creative Director at Venables Bell & Partners
I’ve always preferred the brief to be dry and straight. When planners try to get creative, they end up boxing in the creative. Lots of facts and insights are key, but keep the messaging portion simple and to-the-point. My favorite planners view the brief as a living document. Sometimes the work opens up new avenues, and the brief and presentation set-up can be reworked accordingly. Most importantly, planners and creatives need to work together to figure it out, and both need keep an open mind. If you are not a British planner by birth, work on an accent.

Theo Fanning – Creative Director at Traction Co.
1. Make it Brief. As in short—as short as possible. Less is always more.
2. Actually care. Take the time to write a good brief. No cutting and pasting. No last minute Hail-Marys. Respect your brief and your team will respect you.
3. Be creative. The more creative the brief, the better the outcome—the brief should be a chance for the planner or strategist or account person to be creative—but not prescriptive
4. No consessions. If you have to put something pointless or irrelevant into your breif to “make the client happy,” don’t put that in the version you share with the team.
5. Put in the Rules. If their are mandatories, guides, or client insights that will help the team stay on course—put them in the brief.
6. Key Dates. Put in the reviews, presentations and deadlines—not every freaking task on the schedule, but at least the milestones.
7. Ask a Creative. Have the creative director or creative lead to review it and give input BEFORE you brief the team.
8. Be Flexible. Some times great work is off-breif, but it is so much better than the brief would ever allow. Don’t be married to something that is “client approved.”

Pierre Lipton – Executive Creative Director at AKQA
Each brief should in some way narrow down a creative’s options in a way that actually feels like the opposite—the creative should instantly feel that the area delineated has enormous potential. If they don’t start scribbling ideas down during the brief, we have failed. This is no easy task.

Christian Haas – Executive Creative Director at Goodby Silverstein & Partners
A good brief is insightful, inspiring and directional. It distills a complex problem into a pithy statement and, in so doing, solves half the problem. Getting a good brief is any creative’s dream.

If you are unhappy with a brief, it’s simple, write your own.

Good creative directors craft the strategy along with planners in the same way that good planners shape the work along with creative directors. Long gone is the time when the two disciplines could work in isolation. Thank God (or thank the increased complexity of our industry’s problems and solutions, if you prefer). Our jobs are not so different, if you think about it. Both are about crafting original products by bringing unique perspectives. Creative is like planning, just prettier. There’s no reason we shouldn’t work together.


  1. Jon Finkelstein April 2, 2012

    Great feedback on what makes
    Great feedback on what makes a good brief.

    I made an agency video awhile back on this very topic.

    Partner, Creative. Grip Limited, Toronto

  2. Steve Nelson April 25, 2012

    At AP42, we’ve added one
    At AP42, we’ve added one question to our creative brief to get things from abstract to concrete, adding to the hypothetical target audience at least one living breathing customer who exemplifies the best of your product or service. More at:

  3. Anonymous October 30, 2014