PHL Tech Magazine

Post: How To Develop a Great Creative Brief and Get On-Target Content



Hi, I'm Ryan. I publish here articles which help you to get information about Finance, Startup, Business, Marketing and Tech categories.


How To Develop a Great Creative Brief and Get On-Target Content

Every editor knows what it feels like to sit exasperated in front of the computer, screaming internally, “It would have been easier if I’d done it myself.”

If your role involves commissioning and approving content, you know that sinking feeling: Ten seconds into reviewing a piece, it’s obvious the creator hasn’t understood (or never bothered to listen to) a damn thing you told them. As you go deeper, your fingertips switch gears from polite tapping to a digital Riverdance as your annoyance spews onto the keyboard. We’ve all been there. It’s why we drink. Or do yoga. Or practice voodoo.

In truth, even your best writer, designer, or audiovisual content creator can turn in a bad job. Maybe they had an off day. Perhaps they rushed to meet a deadline. Or maybe they just didn’t understand the brief.

The first two excuses go to the content creator’s professionalism. You’re allowed to get grumpy about that. But if your content creator didn’t understand the brief, then you, as the editor, are at least partly to blame. 

Taking the time to create a thorough but concise brief is the single greatest investment you can make in your work efficiency and sanity. The contrast in emotions when a perfectly constructed piece of content lands in your inbox could not be starker. It’s like the sun has burst through the clouds, someone has released a dozen white doves, and that orchestra that follows you around has started playing the lovely bit from Madame Butterfly — all at once.

Here’s what a good brief does:

  • It clearly and concisely sets out your expectations (so be specific).
  • It focuses the content creator’s mind on the areas of most importance.
  • It encourages the content creator to do a thorough job rather than an “it’ll-do” job.
  • It results in more accurate and more effective content (content that hits the mark).
  • It saves hours of unnecessary labor and stress in the editing process.
  • It can make all the difference between profit and loss.

Arming content creators with a thorough brief gives them the best possible chance of at least creating something fit for purpose — even if it’s not quite how you would have done it. Give them too little information, and there’s almost no hope they’ll deliver what you need.

On the flip side, overloading your content creators with more information than they need can be counterproductive. I know a writer who was given a 65-page sales deck to read as background for a 500-word blog post. Do that, and you risk several things happening:

  • It’s not worth the content creator’s time reading it, so they don’t.
  • Even if they do read it, you risk them missing out on the key points.
  • They’ll charge you a fortune because they’re losing money doing that amount of preparation.
  • They’re never going to work with you again.

There’s a balance to strike.

There’s a balance to be struck.

Knowing how to give useful and concise briefs is something I’ve learned the hard way over 20 years as a journalist and editor. What follows is some of what I’ve found works well. Some of this might read like I’m teaching grandma to suck eggs, but I’m surprised how many of these points often get forgotten.

Who is the client?

Provide your content creator with a half- or one-page summary of the business:

  • Who it is
  • What it does
  • Whom it services
  • What its story is
  • Details about any relevant products and services

Include the elevator pitch and other key messaging so your content creator understands how the company positions itself and what kind of language to weave into the piece.

Who is the audience?

Include a paragraph or two about the intended audience. If a company has more than one audience (for example, a recruitment company might have job candidates and recruiters), then be specific. Even a sentence will do, but don’t leave your content creator guessing. They need to know who the content is for.

What needs to be known?

This is the bit where you tell your content creator what you want them to create. Be sure to include three things:

  • The purpose of the piece
  • The angle to lead with
  • The message the audience should leave with

I find it helps to provide links to relevant background information if you have it available, particularly if the information inspired or contributed to the content idea, rather than rely on content creators to find their own. It can be frustrating when their research doesn’t match or is inferior to your own.

How does the brand communicate?

Include any information the content creators need to ensure that they’re communicating in an authentic voice of the brand.

  • Tone of voice: The easiest way to provide guidance on tone of voice is to provide one or two examples that demonstrate it well. It’s much easier for your content creators to mimic a specific example they’ve seen, read, or heard than it is to interpret vague terms like “formal,” “casual,” or “informative but friendly.”
  • Style guide: Giving your content creator a style guide can save you a lot of tinkering. This is essential for visuals but also important for written content if you don’t want to spend a lot of time changing “%” to “percent” or uncapitalizing job titles. Summarize the key points or most common errors.
  • Examples: Examples aren’t just good for tone of voice; they’re also handy for layout and design to demonstrate how you expect a piece of content to be submitted. This is especially handy if your template includes social media posts, meta descriptions, and so on.

All the elements in a documented brief

Here are nine basic things every single brief requires:

  • Title: What are we calling this thing? (A working title is fine so that everyone knows how to refer to this project.)
  • Client: Who is it for, and what do they do?
  • Deadline: When is the final content due?
  • The brief itself: What is the angle, the message, and the editorial purpose of the content? Include here who the audience is.
  • Specifications: What is the word count, format, aspect ratio, or run time?
  • Submission: How and where should the content be filed? To whom?
  • Contact information: Who is the commissioning editor, the client (if appropriate), and the talent?
  • Resources: What blogging template, style guide, key messaging, access to image libraries, and other elements are required to create and deliver the content?
  • Fee: What is the agreed price/rate? Not everyone includes this in the brief, but it should be included if appropriate.

Depending on your business or the kind of content involved, you might have other important information to include here, too. Put it all in a template and make it the front page of your brief.

Prepare your briefs early

It’s entirely possible you’re reading this, screaming internally, “By the time I’ve done all that, I could have written the damn thing myself.”

But much of this information doesn’t change. Well in advance, you can document the background about a company, its audience, and how it speaks doesn’t change. You can pull all those resources into a one- or two-page document, add some high-quality previous examples, throw in the templates they’ll need, and bam! You’ve created a short, useful briefing package you can provide to any new content creator whenever it is needed. You can do this well ahead of time.

I expect these tips will save you a lot of internal screaming in the future. Not to mention drink, yoga, and voodoo.

This is an update of a January 2019 CCO article.

Get more advice from Chief Content Officer, a monthly publication for content leaders. Subscribe today to get it in your inbox.


Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Lora Helmin

Lora Helmin

Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Popular Posts

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.