Working with Creatives (If You’re Not One)

Thanks to Jen Moran, one of Anthology’s very talented creatives, for help on this!

One of the hardest things for people in communications, marketing, PR and the adjacent fields is to learn how to successfully work with their design team, the “creatives.”  And if you aren’t in these fields, and for some reason find yourself working with a creative team, it can be even more challenging.

To ensure a successful working relationship with your creative team – whether in-house or agency – follow these simple rules (as outlined by a creative person herself!)

Always start with a Creative Brief.

Your creative team should start by providing you a creative brief to fill out. It typically includes:

  • Project Scope – to include your expectations and what the end result should be
  • Goals – what you are trying to accomplish with this project
  • Target Audience – as with everything in communications, this is critical. Who are you trying to reach with this project? What are the demographics and characteristics of this group (personality, age, etc.)
  • One Big Message – what is the one message you want your target audience to walk away with?
  • How does the One Big Message benefit them? – this can be a surprisingly tricky question to answer. Your creative team should be able to walk you through this.
  • Are there any key market issues or concerns that could affect the development of the project, such as timing?
  • Budget – always important and will impact the number of rounds of reviews and edits (see below).
  • Mandatories – these are must-haves, like your logo, any disclaimer information etc.
  • Mission and Purpose of Organization – this isn’t always necessary but helpful if you are working with a new team

Also, think about providing your creative team with designs or photos of what you like. For instance, if you are working with a web design team, do a little research and provide the team with some websites you like – it could be the color palette, the way the content is organized, the use of graphics and multi-media, etc.

The creative brief is the creative team’s bible, so as you are drafting, be thoughtful and clear about the answers.  Moreover, a good creative brief will help minimize confusion and conflict among stakeholders on the business side.

Define the Review Process.

Discussing with the creative team what your review process will entail and the number of rounds of review is really important, for both you and the creatives.  Deciding who – what colleagues and stakeholders – will participate in the review process helps ensure all participants are clear on expectations.

If you have a small budget, you will not be able to implement more than a few rounds of review and edits, as the costs start adding up.  But even if you have a generous budget, there are drawbacks to unlimited reviews, or even several reviews, especially during the concept and design phase of the project. Often times, when too many edits from several stakeholders are implemented, the design starts to move away from the creative brief, and usually further away from success.  It becomes a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster, with parts and pieces added on that don’t always improve the product, add to the message, or strengthen the design.   Developing your review process and sticking to it is an important part of the success of a creative project.

Tips for working with a small budget.

If you are working with a small budget on a creative project, do some of the leg work yourself, like providing competitor research: show the creative team something that your competitor did that you love or hate, and talk about why (is it edgy in a market that tends to be conservative? Non-traditional visuals or messaging?). Knowing what your competitors are doing is helpful for the creative team.

Creative work is always an iterative process.

Beyond drafting a useful creative brief, the most important thing to remember about working with a team of creatives is that it is always an iterative process, and as the client, you should expect to collaborate.  You will see designs and imagery that you love and hate; be prepared to articulate why you react the way you do.  The more the creative team understands your likes and dislikes, wants and needs for the project, the sooner you can all reach a successful outcome.


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