Define the Target

by Billy Pittard on October 1, 2009

An effective creative collaboration starts with a clearly defined target. A written creative brief helps all involved parties to literally get on the same page about what needs to be accomplished.

The brief should be specific enough to help everyone understand what success will look like, and broad enough to foster innovative or unexpected solutions.

It’s a bit like taking time to make sure you are asking the right question before you put a lot of effort into coming up with an answer.

I think of a creative brief as the DNA of the organism that the project will bring to life.

A slight flaw in the DNA will result in problems as the project grows, but get the DNA right, and magic happens.

Even though a creative brief is usually only a page or two of text, those words will have a huge impact on the finished project.

DNA is a single molecule, but look at the complexity and diversity that can come from that single molecule.

One of the key benefits of a well-written creative brief is that it provides an objective measure for ongoing efforts. Are you growing the animal you meant to grow?

In practice, creative briefs often need to evolve.

Circumstances surrounding the project may change, or progressive efforts may reveal new insights.

With building a house as a metaphor, no matter how detailed the blueprints may be, once the structure starts going up and you can walk into the space, you will discover things you had not anticipated.

I recently watched some time-lapse archival footage of the original construction of Disneyland. As Main Street was being built, a large gazebo had been planned at a prominent point on the street, but when Walt saw that it blocked the view of the Magic Castle, he immediately had it moved.

On the film, one can see this large structure moving in and then quickly moving out. The gazebo eventually found a home at New Orleans Square, where it sits today.

Watch for new information and be prepared to use that new information to complete the project to its most successful outcome – whatever the factors may be. Keep the brief up to date and make sure that all involved parties understand the changes in the brief.

Projects without a formal creative brief tend to meander.

People working on such projects typically do what they want to do rather than what the project needs.

And who could blame them? They haven’t been given clear direction.

While the project team may appear to be busily working on the project, the essential purpose of the work may be only marginally served or missed altogether.

A creative brief is the surest way to avoid mistaking activity for progress.

The following is a template for a written creative brief. One or two pages is the desired length. Differing assignments have different needs, so modify and add or delete sections to best capture the essential information needed to make the project a success. Clarity is absolutely critical – that is the point of the brief.


Project name:

Date: and/or version number

Submitted by: Who prepared the brief (usually the Creative Director)

Client contact: The person with approval authority on the client side

Project leader: Probably the Creative Director

Project team: Key team members and their roles

Budget: Gotta be clear about that, at least to the project leader(s).

Schedule: The due date and any other significant dates.

Project overview: A short, high-level description of the project

Target audience: Who is the intended consumer of this item?

Assets available: There are almost always a few existing assets available for a project and it’s helpful to know what those are. Assets may include logos, brand style guides, music, photos, etc.

Creative direction: Any information that will point the look and feel in the right direction. In media projects, the target emotional response is worth great effort to establish before solutions are attempted.

Technical specifications: For some projects, this is absolutely key to success.

Please leave your thoughts and comments. And please, ask for my help.

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