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  • Chris Boyd

If your agency can’t write a one-page creative brief, it will cost you money.

It may seem like a trivial aspect of your marketing process compared to your overall strategy, budget or media plan for example, but it is surprising just how vital this part of your agency’s process is, and how it impacts your budget and sales if your marketing agency doesn’t do it.

I’ve worked in about thirty different agencies of various sizes, structures and fame in three countries both as a full-time employee and freelancer, and there is one thing that almost always distinguished the more creative and effective agencies from everyone else – and that is the one-page creative brief. Basically, all the good places do it. all the other ones don’t. Continues below...

Here’s why it matters

The creative brief should be the focal point of all the research and planning conducted by yourself and your agency, distilled down into a single document. So it has to be the very best it can be, or all the support work is pointless and more importantly, the work going forward will be ineffective.

So what's the problem? In my experience, it's been the multiple-page creative brief consisting of muddled thoughts, copied and pasted marketing or 'brand speak' and technical media specs all commingled together, usually in a random order. These kinds of briefs set the creative teams off in the wrong direction, and there is a good chance that a client, trusting in their agency's processes, will approve that work.

The brief is the one piece of paper that should pass through all departments; creative, account management, planning and client. So if a terrible brief is approved by all departments then everyone shares responsibility for a terrible campaign. As an aside, if your briefs don’t get reworded to a degree by yourself and others, and don’t have the signature of all of those four departments to finally approve it, then it’s likely your agency’s process is also failing.

Multi-page creative briefs only confuse

What can also happen when the work is due to be reviewed, everyone from the Creative Director to the Planner and Account Exec will be judging it by a different sentence in the brief that stood out to them, and so the work will likely be wrong to everyone for different reasons. This normally starts a new round of work, which will cost the agency money and the results from the next round of creative likely no better.

The agency will almost always devise ways to claw back the money spent on this additional time from your retainer, or add it to the production costs of your campaign. Worse still, you’ll end up with a campaign that may well be ineffective because the creative had no relation to the strategy, or the strategy on the brief was wrong in the first place.

A real world example

At one agency, I was handed a five page brief. We spoke about it in the briefing session with the Account Exec and I got to work. When the concepts were being reviewed the Creative Director, who wasn’t in the briefing, asked “where are the ideas that speak to that [thing] I wanted to see?” I asked where that was in the brief.

He flipped through to page five (way past what should have been the single-minded proposition), went down to the fourth paragraph and pointed to one sentence in the middle of that paragraph, and said “Here it is!”. No joke. How would I have known that one sentence buried all that way down was the most important thing he wanted to see, or how would I have known if that is what the client wanted to see?

As a freelancer, I wasn’t at liberty to critique the agency's processes, all I could do was watch two weeks of work get thrown out and a new round of creative begin. Do we think that agency would not try and bill their client for the additional round of creative development too? Unlikely. The solution would have been to give their Planners and Account Execs a lesson in writing the one-page brief.

Here’s what the one-page creative brief does:

  • It forces the brief writer to think much harder about what is important and relevant, and only put that down on the brief – because there is just no room for anything else.

  • It forces them not to waffle on for pages in copied and pasted 'brand speak', but use plain language instead.

  • It stops the creatives from having to guess or use their psychic powers to determine what is important.

  • It aligns all the relevant departments and prevents subjective interpretation of what is required.

  • A good one page brief should be written in a way so that any creative, without the benefit of a briefing session or prior knowledge of the brand, could pick it up and start producing ideas with it. 

Any additional background information on the brand, product info, media or technical specs should be attached as separate sheets. Threaten any Account Exec or Planner (whoever writes the briefs) at your marketing agency with replacing their hands with a hook if they suggest making the one-page brief longer because they plead “There is just too much to say with this brief”. It may be seductive to think that your brand and campaign is worth five pages of brief, but resist these Jedi mind tricks. If your agency keeps insisting on doing things that way, it's likely they're just trying to add billing hours to the retainer anyway.


If you’ve seen what I’ve seen, it would be clear how this one document is pivotal to developing effective creative campaigns on time and on budget, because it would be obvious what happens when it’s not done this way. To be fair, some Account Execs or Planners have just never been shown, or worked in an agency that adheres to the one-page creative brief, so they just don’t know any different. But now that you know, it’s time to let them know. After all, everyone will benefit both in terms of success and financially. Your marketing agency won’t burn through so much of their time and money working on the wrong brief, and you will have a much better chance of launching successful and effective campaigns.


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