Content brief

"Give me the freedom of a tight brief."

David Ogilvy

Welcome to the content brief toolkit.

On this page you’ll find:

  • what a brief is
  • when to write one
  • how to write one
  • a 15-point template for a comprehensive brief

What is a brief?

A brief is the blueprint for a successful project. It should give a very clear idea of what you need to do, why you’re doing it, and the key elements of how you need to approach it.

A good brief is comprehensive, specific, and unambiguous. As David Ogilvy put it, a tight brief is freedom. Working with the right level of restrictions is proven to lead to the most creative, innovative solutions. (Source: Why constraints are good for innovation, HBR)

Why? When there are no constraints, it’s easy to get lost. Firstly, it might not be totally clear what you need need to accomplish. Secondly, when there are no parameters to work in, there are often so many potential responses that it can be overwhelming. And when people are overwhelmed, it’s really likely that they will end up going with the most obvious idea, because it feels safe.

By contrast, when you have restrictions you have something to push up against creatively. The constraints force you to focus and can help you come up with far more innovative ideas as a result.

When to write a brief

Writing the brief should be the first step in a new piece of work. It should come before you write a proposal, create a project plan, or start to spec anything out.

How to write a brief (and who should do it)

Typically clients, product owners, or project managers write the brief. So ideally, if you’re a content strategist or content designer, you should be on the receiving end, not the writing end.

So what’s the point of this template, then?

Well, I’ve found that a lot of the time the briefs I get are:

  1. Non-existent
  2. Not detailed enough
  3. Not content-specific enough

In those situations, I will send this template to the project owner and ask them to complete it. Or – better still – I book in some time to work through it together. The best briefs are often the product of collaboration, and it’s invaluable to have the time to ask questions or get clarification on anything that isn’t clear.

What to put into your brief

Summary

What’s this all about, in a single sentence?

Hypothesis

What’s your hypothesis for this piece of work?

Goal

What’s the goal at the end of this piece of work? And how will you know if you’ve been successful?

KPIs/metrics

Are there any KPIs or metrics for this piece of work?

Proposition

What’s the proposition (for the brand/product/service as appropriate)? (A clear idea of the common goal between the organisation and the audience you want to reach). 

Audience

Who is the audience for this? What do they need? What are the key insights? Include links to user research, personas, user journeys, etc.

Messaging

What are the main points you want to communicate to the audience?

Current landscape/context

What’s happening now? What have you already done as part of this piece of work? What research, artefacts, deliverables should this work draw on? Include links to any relevant documentation.

Deliverables

What are the key things that this work needs to deliver? Be very specific here – come up with an itemised list, and include things like formats too, if relevant.

Scope

What should this piece of work include? What doesn’t it include?

Execution

Are there any guidelines, policies, or non-negotiables that this piece of work needs to take into account? 

Timeline

What’s the deadline? When are the milestones? Why now?

Risks

What could go wrong? What’s your nightmare outcome?

RACI

Who is responsible, accountable, consulted, informed for/about what?

Budget

What’s the budget?

Further reading

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