I recently read some advice about blog writing: when writing, focus on “how” content as opposed to “why” content, because people like to be helped. I thought that was pretty good, as I find that when I’m online, I’m constantly looking for content on how to do things better and keep things moving forward. However, given the topic, I think that at least bending the rule is in order, as we find that some people love the creative brief and others don’t really put a lot of effort into it. So in this blog post, I’m going to give you a little bit of the why behind the creative brief – in the hopes that you’ll buy into the merit of the idea – as well as some help on how to create one.
We work with both agencies and directly with brands to create film and video content. Most agencies already understand the importance of the creative brief, but we’ve found that as more and more people turn to video, not everyone knows where to begin – or if they do, they don’t recognize the significance of a great brief.
We’ve consistently found that the best projects don’t happen by accident or because we stumbled into it. And that’s why the creative brief is so important – it’s the beginning step in a process that leads to the best possible outcome for your film project. Whether that outcome is key messaging that needs to be communicated, a proper positioning of your product or brand, or an emotional telling of your story, film projects (and results!) begin with the creative brief.
At its simplest, it’s about communication, and in many cases discovery. Clients sometimes assume that because we’re in the commercial film business, we will know what their project should look like at the first meeting. Ironically (after some initial probing), what we often find is that clients don’t know what they want. I’m not trying to bash on clients struggling to communicate their needs, but rather reveal a truth: that creating something from nothing is really hard. It’s OK to feel or recognize a need but not know exactly what the solution should be. However, it’s better to realize this early and figure it out, then to jump in for the sake of a deadline only to have to do a redirect later. (Or worse, end up with something that doesn’t work at all!)
So, what is the creative brief and what does it do? We think of the creative brief as a document that names the defining characteristics of your film – those parameters that give the production company boundaries (constraints) to work within. The creative brief does not describe how you want the film to look or be made, but the production company/creative team uses it to ensure that any approaches it proposes are viable options. Said another way, it gives the production company what it needs to know so that what is ultimately made meets the needs you have.
Hailey and Karl review a creative brief at a planning session for an upcoming project.
Others have said that the primary function of the creative brief is to inspire your creative team to come up with the best communications response to solve a particular problem. What they really mean by this is not that you have to describe your project in such a cool way that the creative team will be excited to work on it, but rather that because you know your project so well and have been very precise in describing the parameters that surround it, the creative team will be motivated because they have what they need to come up with a great solution. For example, it’s one thing to know that your target audience is female and under 35 years old, it’s another thing to know that they also spend most of their social engagement on Instagram, have a preference for handcrafted items, and rarely wear makeup. THAT kind of information can be extremely inspiring to a creative team.
Besides giving the constraints that a project must meet and live within, the other big function that the creative brief serves is to act as a reference point and guide for the duration of the project. “Creative creep” – that almost inevitable shifting of the original idea over the life of a project – is real. It happens frequently because film production involves so many unknowns and variables at the onset and typically decisions have to be made along the way. For example, what do you do when budget doesn’t allow contingency days (i.e., you’ve got one shot at it), you’re planning on shooting a sunset at a remote location, and it ends up being cloudy? (True story) A decision on how to proceed has to be made, and unless you have a brief that has clearly outlined the parameters for the project, you don’t know if the solution you come up with is a good one or not. Or maybe more to the point, if it’s one that works or not. In this case, a cloudy scene did not, but doing a sky replacement in post with an approved scope change, did.
To bring this all together, let’s take a look at the actual questions that we use to help clients develop their own creative briefs. Creative briefs can vary slightly depending on the specifics of your project, but in general, we’ve found these are the most critical and common issues that we look at on almost every project. Remember, the better you craft these responses the more ammo, or “inspiration” you’re providing for the creative team, which in turn leads to the best creative concepts:
And that’s it. Once you’ve worked through your responses, you officially have your creative brief!
If you’re interested in using the questions above, we’ve put them into a Word document that we call our Strategic Input Brief (SIB) (don’t get hung-up with the name, it’s simply the creative brief without any answers). Feel free to download it below. We hope you’ll find great value in it and see the difference it can make with your next film project.