Creative briefs: The unsung hero of the content development process

Creative briefs: The unsung hero of the content development process

One of my Moonlight colleagues once told me, “Every problem is a communication problem.” And she had a point. How many times have you felt like you were playing a game of telephone with your colleagues: person A (you) had a vision for a project but by the time that information made it to person B (be it a writer, photographer, or client), the original ask had morphed into something unrecognizable and you had to start from scratch, but now with less time.

In my previous roles as a marketing leader, this happened a lot. So much so that my job within my job was making sure everyone was on the same page. A few months into my time here at Moonlight, I realized this didn’t have to feel like a game or be overly complicated. The answer was, in fact, more brief.

The Moonlight team introduced me to the creative brief, the secret sauce to achieving clear communication within a project, and the heartbeat of a content piece. After reading so many of them, I discovered how much of a skill it was to write one—one I developed by watching, learning, and clocking many hours making them myself. But in the interest of time, here’s a crash course.

What is a creative brief?

A creative brief is a document that outlines the expectations of a person or organization requesting work. It includes specifications of the work such as its goals, audience, approach, and practical details. Someone might write up a creative brief for any number of content types: articles, website copy, images, or videos. Briefs help gain stakeholder approval and act as an initial point of direction and resource hub for a content creator.   

A well-written creative brief does various things: they help facilitate discussion among stakeholders and align expectations, they help contribute to a quicker turnaround time, and (when done thoroughly) they can yield a near-perfect first version of a project that reduces edits in suggesting mode or red ink. 

What should be included in a creative brief?

A creative brief covers the five W’s: who, what, when, where, why, and how?

Audience (the “who”)

Good content sticks with your readers, so getting clear on who they are is imperative at the outset.  When outlining audience attributes, consider: 

  • Who are they? Cover industry, role, and seniority level for B2B content, and typical demographic information for consumer. 
  • How do they expect to be communicated to? 
  • What stage of the customer journey are they in? 

Don’t skip over this section, even if it seems obvious. There are many ways to approach any given topic, and you want to intentionally root your angle in who your audience is. For example, if you’re creating a series of SEO articles about influencer marketing, you’ll need to choose which audience to speak to: influencers marketing themselves to brands, or brands hiring influencers. 

Before the content creator embarks on the content creation journey, you want to get everyone aligned on what is (and isn't) included in the piece.

Topic and outline (the “what”)

This is simply what you’re writing about. Topics should be as specific as possible, and indicate how the subject matter will be approached. Consider: 

  • Timeliness: Is the piece meant to be timely or evergreen?
  • Neutrality: Is the piece meant to convey information from a position of neutrality, or is it meant to express a strong perspective? 

Next, you’ll cover the content outline—the meat of a creative brief and the reason why we’re here. Before the content creator embarks on the content creation journey, you want to get everyone aligned on what’s included in the piece—and what’s not included in the piece. Aim to give enough detail that the scope of the content is clear, but leave enough to the imagination that the creator can be, well, creative.

Align the medium with the message, as well. For a long-form article, try a bulleted outline with specific notes for the writer. For video content, it could be reference images or a storyboard with notes on lighting and composition. 

Logistical details (the “when” and “where”)

Simply put: When is this due and what happens when this piece is completed? If your list of stakeholders is long, include the approval workflow to let people know to whom to pass the baton. If there are several deliverables covered within one brief, add the specific due dates and note any dependencies.

This section will also include where this content will live. Noting the “where”—like blog vs. Linkedin—is important, as the creator should align their work with standards and best practices for the channel. 

Goals (the “why”)

Like all of us, goals contain multitudes. You can have two types of goals: business goals and content goals. Your business goal is the reason why you are investing in creating this piece of content. Content goals speak to your audience and what you want them to get from the content. Include the metrics you’ll use to measure success, like social shares, traffic, or conversions. If the brief is for a multi-channel campaign, list the goals by channel. Good content is an investment, and communicating your multi-layered goals at this point can help ensure your investment pays off. 

Voice and tone guidelines (the “how”)

Writers need to know how your brand speaks to create content that feels authentic. At Moonlight, our briefs cover the following: 

  • Personality. What personality attributes does your brand voice possess, and what attributes does it not possess? For example, your brand might be encouraging and never condescending. 
  • Use of humor. Does humor fit into the voice? If so, what type of humor works? Is your brand witty or sarcastic? 
  • Style guide of choice. Do you follow a popular style guide like Chicago or AP style? Regardless, you might include a shortlist of helpful rules, like those that govern capitalization, use of numbers, and commas. 
  • Guardrails. What guardrails do you have around language? Are there phrases or words you absolutely do not use?  
  • Promotional language. How promotional are you expected to be when speaking about your product? 
  • Tone. For this particular piece or package of content, what tone is appropriate, based on the context? For example, a campaign for paid social might use a different tone than your blog. Or, if the content piece is on a more somber topic than what you usually publish about, you might advise a more serious tone. 

Accompanying assets 

This section shares what other assets are needed to best communicate the ideas of the piece. This might be photos, videos, or gifs that will make the concepts in the article sing. You likely won’t have the final assets at this stage in the process, so describe your vision here. That way, a writer will know what an illustrator is working on, and vice versa.

Research and references 

This is miscellaneous information that is helpful for the piece. It can be references to other content that model what the brand either does or doesn’t want to emulate. For SEO articles, it could be competitor articles that the piece aims to outrank. Or, it could be proprietary data or specific research that needs to be included.

6 steps to making a creative brief

Now that we’ve broken down the ingredients of a creative brief, here’s a step-by-step recipe to create one: 

  1. Convene as a group. Discuss goals of the project, vision for the output, and considerations. Let them know a brief for a new project is on the way. 
  2. Gather research. Compile competitor research, general research into the topic to provide background, and any relevant brand guidelines. 
  3. Outline the content. Provide a roadmap for the content creator. 
  4. Stakeholder review. Pass the brief by every pertinent stakeholder’s desk to make sure everyone is aligned. 
  5. Handle revisions. If there are any requested revisions, make the changes as you receive them.
  6. Send to the content creator. Upon unanimous approval, share the brief with the content creator


Final thoughts

There is more than meets the eye when it comes to making creative briefs. They do take an up-front investment of time, and they may not, in actuality, be brief. But, coming from someone who discovered creative briefs later in his career, I promise the juice is worth the squeeze. 

Creative briefs are just one essential piece of the overall effort it takes to produce content. Moonlight can relieve your team of that burden or advise on how our editorial process could work for your organization. Interested in learning more? Drop us a line.

Robbie Guevarra has a background in marketing and communications with a keen eye for client management. Before joining Moonlight, he ran brand communications for a healthcare startup and was a marketing leader in the luxury hospitality space. 


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