The atypical creative brief for professional services

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March 14, 2017 4 min read
by Nat Korol


The Big Idea:

A creative brief has been a staple in the agency world for decades. It’s a necessity. But being a necessity doesn’t mean it should stay the same. So, we took a step back and started asking questions to understand why creative briefs are important and what’s the ultimate job that they accomplish for the client and the agency. As the outcome, we came up with a bare bones creative brief template that’s especially easy and valuable for professional services companies but also for the ‘time is money’ type of companies ie. everyone. It’s a win-win! 


For many professional services companies marketing and design are rarely viewed as a core part of the business. That said, it’s hard for senior executives to avoid the importance and disruption of new customer engagement. Thus, many are now turning to third-party vendors for progressive expertise in building customer relationships online.

The what, when and why of hiring a third-party vendor varies based on your business and project goals, values and objectives. However, to set yourself and your project up for success, you need one thing: an onboarding period when you have to open up and provide insights about your wants and needs to the vendor(s). For this, you’re going to need a creative brief.

What is a creative brief?

A creative brief provides the context for carrying out a marketing or design project by answering the following broad questions:

  • What is the objective of your project? What challenge are you seeking to address?
  • What is the business context in which this project will be implemented?
    • Internal factors (e.g. brand personality and guidelines, existing marketing/design initiatives)
    • External factors (e.g. target audience, competitive environment)
  • What is your ideal outcome and expectations?

Why should you prepare a creative brief?

…Isn’t this what you’re hiring the professionals to do?

You’re not alone in this sentiment.

Do you think it’s cost effective and project efficient to pay for hours of work to a professional to figure out what you’re looking for and what your company stands for? Frankly, professional creative agencies have no interest in wasting their time either but many will gladly take a cheque for phone calls, meetings, and unnecessary research. It would take you and your team a lot less time and energy to put together a creative brief for the vendor such that they can:

  • come up with a unique and well-defined scope of work quickly
  • know their deliverables and expectations
  • provide a clear cut budget
  • hit the ground running

A creative brief is a solid starting point. By thinking that the professional vendors that you’re hiring should complete the creative brief for you, you’re missing out on an incredible opportunity to even make sure that everyone internally is on the same page. We’ve all had times when we thought everyone was on the same page only to find out additional clarity was necessary.

Additionally, preparing a creative brief prior to engaging with vendors will help you shortlist prospects, making you and your team more strategic in your approach of choosing the right business partner based on their qualifications, your needs as well as relationship.

Selfishly speaking, don’t set yourself up for frustration and potential failure of the project by not taking couple of hours to articulate the needs, objectives, challenges and expectations you already know.

Why you need to complete a creative brief:

  • will help you shortlist vendor partners
  • saves you time and money because the creative brief helps the vendor to provide you with a proposal and budget quicker
  • gets everyone on the same page, your internal team as well as the vendor partners with respect to the project goals, needs, challenges and expectations for the project.

How should you put together a creative brief?

As soon as you identify a need for external strategic and/or executional marketing and design support, it’s an ideal time to put together a creative brief, soliciting input from all the appropriate members of your team. It should not be an overly time-consuming and drawn-out process – point form answers and summaries are perfect. The key is honesty. Think critically about your challenges and objectives from different perspectives.

  • Start by framing the challenge you are facing and provide context regarding your objectives and existing initiatives.
  • Keep things focused and brief and use bullet format.
  • Don’t dump all the challenges the firm is facing for the vendor to come up with a comprehensive solution. Focused objectives are more likely to produce targeted results.
  • Ensure that the decision-makers who will ultimately sign off on the initiative are involved in preparing the creative brief. If the decision-makers have not provided their input at the outset, there is greater potential for problems down the road.

The purpose of a creative brief:

With your creative brief in hand, you can approach a marketing/design vendors and say, “This is a project that we would like to undertake. Can you help us?”

Because you’ve already put in the effort to compile the creative brief, a vendor will be in a better position to hit the ground running. They’ll use it to peel back the layers of the challenge your company is trying to address, identify gaps and opportunities, and ask the right questions to develop a robust solution.

You can expect for the vendor to deliver the professional services that you are seeking to outsource, giving your company access to the marketing and design capabilities that are lacking or stretched thin within your firm.

Setting up for success:

We trust that you see the necessity and value of a creative brief if you are considering engaging a third-party vendor to provide marketing and design services. If you’re an ‘outside the box thinker’, we’d encourage you to use a creative brief even for your own organization’s internal creative projects.

We are here to help make this process as smooth and rewarding as possible for you. Try out our creative brief template to get started on solving your firm’s business challenges with marketing and design projects that deliver results.

Key Takeaways:

  1. A creative brief should be completed by the organization looking to have a successful marketing design project completed by a vendor (or internally)
  2. It should be completed prior to sourcing a marketing design business partner
  3. A creative brief needs to outline the goals, challenges, and expectations, honestly in a focused and precise manner
  4. It’s equally important and valuable for the creative business partner as it is for your team
  5. A creative brief will save you money, hassle and time if it’s the right one. A starting point is our bare-bones creative brief template, try it now!
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