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:

Strategic Input Brief (SIB)

1. What is the BRAND PROMISE of your company (What is the public’s perception and expectation of your company)?

Helping the creative team get clear on who you are and how you present yourself seems obvious, but the nuances of your brand should come through here.

2. What is the company’s unique VALUE PROPOSITION (what is the unique value that your company offers to customers)?

Often times a company’s mission or vision statement will be closely aligned with this response.

3. What is the OBJECTIVE of this video (what is the single problem are you trying to solve)?

Narrowing it down to just one can be difficult, but it’s a great exercise and helps keep everyone crystal clear on what this project is about.

4. What is the TARGET LENGTH of this video?

Sometimes the “right length” can be a proper response, other times there are specific constraints of social channels, broadcast, or even research that drives this response.

5. Is there a TONE that has been identified that this video should have? If so, what is it?

This is a starting point for understanding how the project should come across to people.

6. Where will this video be VIEWED and via what DISTRIBUTION methods?

Technical considerations can come into play here, other times this question helps guide creative solutions.

7. What are the KEY COMMUNICATION POINTS (specific content) that must be addressed in this video (no more than 3)?

Sometimes people describe this questions as the “messaging point.” Either way, this is the meat of your project and what you are trying to say. For most commercial projects in the branding and promotional categories, limiting the responses to three ensures that we don’t try to do too much in a film (a common temptation). Projects like product or instructional videos may exceed three points.

8. Who is the TARGET AUDIENCE and what is CRITICAL TO KNOW about them?

As discussed above, the better or more thoroughly you can answer this question, the better and more on target proposed solutions are going to be.

9. What is the KEY PERSUASION of this video (when people watch this they will __________)?

I love this question because it gets to the heart of what you want the project to accomplish. We intentionally leave this question a bit open ended to see how people respond. The responses can vary greatly, from things like, “…they will feel inspired,” to “…they will be aware of (company or product),” to “…they will feel compelled to try (product or service).”

10. Is there a specific CALL TO ACTION that needs to be included in this video? If so, what is it?

At the end of the video, this is simply the next step that you want the viewer to take, if any. Often times a website url is used as part of a call to action.

11. Is there an existing video(s) that is similar to or would serve as INSPIRATION for this project?

Having something tangible to use as a reference point can go a long way in discussing creative approaches, tone, production values, etc.

12. What is the established/anticipated BUDGET for this video?

Sometimes people don’t want to “speak first” when it comes to budget, but the sooner we know what you are willing to invest in a project, the easier and more efficient it is for us to create solutions that are on target with respect to your objectives, messaging, etc., and that can also be produced for your given budget. If you don’t know what your budget should be, we can often offer examples of other work and corresponding budget ranges so that you have some idea on what to expect or plan for.

13. What is the target COMPLETION DATE for this project?

This is pretty self-explanatory, but we’ll build a production schedule backwards from this date.

14. Are there OTHER PARAMETERS not addressed by this brief that are important to the creation of this video?

In general, this is a catch-all for you to express anything that you’ve been wanting to but feel like wasn’t addressed above. Additionally, if there are really important elements to your project that wouldn’t normally be touched on or “caught” in the questions above, be sure to express them here. For example, if you’re looking for new ideas that don’t necessarily fall within your brand standards, we would normally assume the opposite, so this would be a great place to explain that.

15. What will make this project be considered a SUCCESS (how will it be measured)?

This helps set realistic expectations for the project and is related to the objective of the video, though often nuances that help define and shape the project get expressed differently with the answer to this question.

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.