How to write a creative brief (with help from Pinterest)

Posted By on November 9, 2012

Pat English, lady lion tamer, uses whip and chair to manage wild creatures with teeth; all you need is a creative brief. Photo courtesy of Look Magazine.

I have a secret to tell you about managing creative people.

You know how a lion tamer typically wields a chair in one hand and a whip in the other? To get the best work from those wildly imaginative copywriters and art directors, you need the equivalent. It’s called a creative brief.

Write a creative brief as a cage to provide safety and order to creatives.


A creative brief is just a short overview of the creative assignment. It describes the audience, provides an overview of the creative problem, and states the one key thing you want to say that will solve it.

Without a well-written brief, you’ll never get the best work from your creative teams. Chaos will reign if these wildly fertile brains aren’t given a box to work within so they can deliver a web site, a blog post, a video, or a banner ad that is on strategy.

The takeaway is the most important part of the creative brief.

A great brief requires that you articulate the most important thing you want your audience to remember. This is sometimes called the takeaway; sometimes it’s referred to as the creative strategy statement; sometimes it’s just called the message.

It must be a single thing. It must be meaty. This is the T-bone steak for all creative people. It is the main thing in a brief that you can be sure your creative team will read. (Let me confess, as one of those wild and wooly creative types, it is sometimes the only thing your team will read.)

My favorite takeaway formula is from Larry Asher, co-director of the School of Visual Concepts and creative director of Worker Bees, an advertising agency in Seattle.

(See the SlidesShare presentation from the class Larry Asher and I co-teach on “Evaluating (and Encouraging) Better Creative Work” for further enlightenment on this vast and important topic.)

Here’s how the formula looks when it’s applied to one of the all-time great brand campaigns for Federal Express.

You should send (verb) your package (noun) because FedEx guarantees it will get there overnight (single compelling reason).”

The creative solution? “Fed Ex. When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”

Who could forget this brilliant FedEx TV commercial with John Moschitta?

How Pinterest can improve a creative brief.

Remember the metaphor I started this post with to talk about creative teams? The one about the lion tamer wielding a chair? Turns out that the lion tamer isn’t actually holding the big cats off; she’s getting them to focus on the obstacle in front of them rather than eating her arm.

So, too, with a creative brief: writing a single-minded one is half the battle. Getting the creative team to read and (forgive the pun, “ingest” it) is the other.

That’s why I like to use Pinterest. Creative teams see hundreds of briefs each year so it’s not wise to bore them with yet another dry, unappetizing memo. Pinterest gives me all the power of images and videos to explain any assignment with style and attitude.

Take a look at the demo Creative Brief Pinboard I created on Pinterest for a made-up Starbucks Via packaging assignment. On the cover is the all-important takeaway.

This takeaway for a made-up Starbucks Via packaging assignment has one thought–and only one–to convey.

The rest of my Pinboard contains the elements of a standard creative brief, illustrated with pictures and explained in captions.

Come back next week and I will walk you through all the elements you need on a Pinterest creative brief. And if you’ve got other ways to tame those pussycats in the creative department, I’d love to hear them.

Cynthia Hartwig