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"A Project Manager’s Creative Brief"

By Jessica Walton

Before I started working as a project manager in the marketing/creative space, I started out as a creative (writer). With experience on both sides of the rodeo, I’ve thought carefully about the kind of useful information project managers should be providing to their creative teams in order to produce high-quality deliverables on time and within budget.

What does the typical creative brief look like for a client (also to be shared with the creatives)? I’ve seen several templates that included the following items:

  • Brand statement

  • Brand voice

  • Company background

  • Concise overview of the campaign’s background and objectives

  • Key challenges

  • Target audience

  • Competitors

  • Primary messaging (i.e. describing the brand’s value)

  • Communication channels

  • Additional insights

While this information is important to include, there are additional questions you should ask the client in order to provide shortcuts for your creatives and facilitate a smoother project life cycle. Here are the questions I’ve learned to add to my list:

Who Makes the Final Decisions?

I’ve unfortunately been caught up in a situation in which I thought I was corresponding with the head honcho on a team, only to find out close to project completion that he had to go receive approval from his boss.

Be a diplomat, but be direct: ask who makes the final call and then tie that person into the process as early as possible (if appropriate) so you don’t waste the creative team’s time with major last minute edits.

Are There Specific Visuals You had in Mind?

Sometimes a client already has a specific visual or concept in mind, but you won’t know if you don’t ask. If a client has expectations that can be articulated ahead of time, then you wind up saving your creatives a lot of time conjuring up initial drafts that don’t hit the mark.

What Existing Assets Can We Use?

There’s no need for the creatives to recreate the wheel if the client already has access to existing visuals, footage or text. If requesting original design files (such as a logo that was created by another agency), make sure the client knows ahead of time the specific file type your graphic designers or video editors will need to avoid bouncing the ball back and forth.

Is There Other Collateral That Will be Included in This Campaign?

Sometimes the client doesn’t consider this until the last minute or they simply don’t know what other types of collateral are available.

For example, if you are already creating a pull-up banner for a conference, ask the client if they also want a table drape, product data sheets, infographics, promotional flyers, t-shirts and other useful marketing assets. This not only provides the client with a uniform campaign, but can also help your creatives work more efficiently as they bundle collateral for a single delivery.

What are We Not Delivering?

This is the easiest way to avoid scope creep and should preferably be set down somewhere in writing. For example, if you’re providing a website for a client, clarify if you are also providing (or not) copy, graphics and video.

Who is Paying for What?

Just like you’re managing a budget for your team or agency, the client has a budget as well. If a client begins to request additional products or functions that go beyond the standard capacity of your team (such as a video crew to shoot footage, when all you have on your team is a video editor), then inform the client up-front about additional costs to avoid miscommunication or project delays.

The Key Takeaway

Although the brief is often presented to a client or stakeholder, do your creative team a favor and create a brief tailored to their needs as a core roadmap for project success. Keep in mind that a well-written creative brief is comprehensive yet truly brief (no more than 2 pages), but just a few additional questions asked ahead of time can help you manage sudden change and unexpected variables.