An effective creative brief contains all the information your creative team will need to do their work: Audience, media, budget, and logistical details. But there‘s one ingredient, above all others, that should be focused on, and included in your brief – Communication Context.

Every piece of communication exists in an environment. For example, a billboard sits on the side of a road. At most, it gets a couple of seconds of attention. A YouTube ad interrupts a user’s journey to the video they want to watch – three seconds until they can hit the Skip button. You and your creative team should always think about – and create for – the environment in which the message will be seen/experienced.

There are two types of context:
Physical and Emotional.

1. Physical Context

You‘re always communicating with a person. That person is somewhere, living their life – pulling mail out of the mailbox, sitting in subway seat staring up at your transit ad. You want a few moments of their attention. By identifying and calling out the physical context of the communication, you give your creative team a powerful tool to develop the message. Minimally, the team will understand how much time they have to communicate, but if they’re good, they’ll also use context to make the message more effective and memorable. Maybe the headline on the subway card would say, “We know Forest Hills is not your final destination -- a Master’s Degree is.” The context is used to get attention and engage the reader.

Message competition is also an essential aspect of physical context. It’s a rare moment when your message is alone with the viewer. Your audience gets home from work. They walk in the door and pick up the pile of mail. Maybe ten pieces. Your piece has to stand out and quickly communicate something of perceived value, or it will end up in the darkness of the trash bin a few seconds later. When your creative team considers the competition the message will encounter, they‘ll have a better chance of developing a message that stands out.

2. Emotional Context

Your audience is living their life. They’re on the subway, and their head is filled with hopes, worries, plans, aspirations, or what they’re going to have for dinner. When you develop your creative brief, give your team some insight into the mindset of your audience. How they feel, overall, or in the moment. Don’t get to hung up on this. Unless you’ve done audience research, this exercise is almost always hypothetical, so don’t worry about accuracy. That’s not the point. When you give your team some ideas about the emotional context of the audience, they’ll run with them. For instance, the headline example I used previously “We know Forest Hills is not your final destination – a Master’s Degree is.” combines physical and emotional context. It works like a friend. It acknowledges their current circumstances and taps into their hopes and dreams. That’s context. It’s a powerful tool, and you’ll be amazed where it can take the creative.

If you need help developing your creative team, call me. I have nearly thirty years of creative management experience. I’ll help to make your messages more effective, and your creative team more satisfied with, and proud of, their work.