Hiring? Prepare a Copywriting Brief Always!

So, you KNOW copywriting. Great! Except for one thing. Time. You’re a busy person. You’re running an account, a process or function, a team, a department, a business. That’s a lot of items on your to-do list. I only have one on mine: copywriting.

There will be times when you need, and hopefully, want to do your own copywriting. But when you want a fresh pair of eyes or simply another pair of hands, you need an external copywriter. And when you do, the good ones will ask you for a brief, preferably a written copywriting brief.

So what, exactly, is a copywriting brief?

In essence, a copywriting brief tells the external copywriter about you, your company, your product and, most importantly, your customers or prospects. It should tell them what you want to achieve. It should not, ideally, tell them how to do it. That’s their job. After all, you wouldn’t buy a dog and bark yourself. (Or would you? Some clients seem to take a perverse delight in hiring a copywriter—and then telling them not just what to write and how but, finally, rewriting their copy altogether.)

A key function of the brief is to act as a written record of what you have asked for. It forms, in other words, the basis of the contract between you and your copywriter. If what you get back doesn’t match the brief, you have grounds for asking for a rewrite. If it does, but you just don’t like the style, then you are into negotiation territory. Any good copywriter should be happy to redraft something if you’re not happy with the tone or style, provided you haven’t changed the brief since commissioning the work.

Do you have to meet?

You don’t have to meet: I have clients in Texas, Vienna, Brussels and Singapore whom I have never met. We all have phones, Skype, email, videoconferencing if we want them. But it’s nice to meet. After all, one of the theses of this book is that we are all human. And it’s a natural human desire to meet the people with whom we do business.

If you do meet, make sure there’s an agreed agenda. Don’t waste your time (or theirs) with a rambling, unfocused chat.

Read: 3 Rules of Copywriting

What goes into the copywriting brief?

You can put into your brief anything you like. It should all, though, help your copywriter understand the buying chain, from the product to the client. If they are any good at all they will ask you lots of questions. Here is the outline of a standard questionnaire I use with clients to help them focus. Please feel free to adapt this for your own needs. Numbers 10 to 16 will only be relevant if you’re handling design and print, too.

copywriting brief

Your typical copywriting brief

Client:

Client contact:

Campaign/product name:

Target completion date:

Summary of creative requirements:

Enclosures:

Target audience—please supply as much detail as possible about the target reader of the copy, eg demographic and professional profiles. Plus try to answer these questions:

  • What keeps them awake at 3 am?
  • What are they hungry for?
  • What do they want less of?
  • What will happen if they do what you want?
  • What won’t happen if they do what you want?
  • What will happen if they don’t do what you want?
  • What won’t happen if they don’t do what you want?

Read: Know Thy Customer
Read: Why Your Customers Buy Stuff

Overall campaign objectives—Ultimate goal, eg generate inquiries or sales, inform prospects and clients, build brand recognition and preference, recapture previous purchasers, etc. What do you want the reader to know, feel and commit?

Product information—Type of product, product/brand names, content, etc.

Unique selling proposition—What are the special characteristics of this product that make it better than the competition? What are its strengths (and weaknesses if any)?

Benefit to the purchaser—How is their life improved by buying the product? What’s in it for them?

Marketing strategy—How will you achieve your goal? Type of campaign being launched and why? Communications channels—online, offline, combination?

Lists/target media—Mailing list selections, in-house databases, magazines, newspapers, etc.

Schedule—When do you need the first draft; when do you need final copy and final artwork?

Company’s core values/positioning—What sort of image are we trying to convey, eg serious and authoritative, fun and funky, upmarket and reserved, friendly and reliable … any combination of these or other values?

Visuals/concept work—Do you want visuals/alternative creative treatments before the copy goes into the design stage? How many ideas?

Typography—Are there any specific typefaces that we must include or exclude? Are there any specific typographical rules/editorial guidelines (eg house style) that form part of your marketing or corporate policy?

Colour—How many colors are we to use? Are there any particular colors that we must include or avoid? Are there any ways in which you want to use color (eg solid ground on the front cover, large blocks of solid color, tints)?

Layout and format—Is there a specific required format for printed documents (eg 4pp A4, 8pp A5, 6pp DL)? What size envelope will you use if it is to be mailed? Is there a specific feel we are trying to create (eg busy, spacious, relaxed)?

Logos and graphics—Are there any specific graphic elements that we must include (eg logos, screen dumps, graphics, illustrations, photos)? How many and where will they come from (eg Sunfish to provide, client to provide)?

Software—What software package is preferred by/ acceptable to your printer?

Other issues—Any other important notes on house style or creative aspects?

When you are preparing your copywriting brief, keep in mind to mention all these into it. (For the sake of your copywriter, at least!)

Dealing with copywriting edits

Over the past few years, I have written a great deal of copy. While I was working a short stint in-house, nobody ever said they liked my work or offered any praise. (Boohoo, poor me.) As soon as I started working as an independent copywriter, the praise started flowing. Why is this? Maybe people respect the craftsmen they hire but not their own employees, I don’t know. But here’s my point.

When you get your first draft back from your copywriter, they will be feeling anxious. They’ll hope that you like it, and, by extension, them. They’ll worry that you won’t. They’ve put a lot of time and effort into this first draft and they desperately need a little stroke before hearing the bad news (if there is any).

If you want to build a solid working relationship with your external copywriter, therefore, I recommend that you find something positive to say to start with. They’ll be pathetically grateful and you can then lead them gently into the areas where you feel a little more work is needed.

Be aware, too, that there are two basic categories of amendments. The first are those changes you want to be made because the copywriter hasn’t grasped your product, company, customer or selling points. That’s their fault and they should put it right at no extra charge.

The second are those changes you want to be made because, for example, you have changed your mind about some aspect of the campaign or sales piece while they were off writing the first draft. They should still be willing to make these changes but you should, in turn, be willing to pay for the additional work.

We’re back to the copywriting brief.

If it’s not on the brief, you can’t expect them to have incorporated it into the copy.

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Ron C

Helping digital brands, in India and around the world, with stellar copywriting and content marketing services for better lead generation, enhanced sales, and better customer retention. Reach me at +1 (518) 400 9081.
Ron C
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Helping digital brands, in India and around the world, with stellar copywriting and content marketing services for better lead generation, enhanced sales, and better customer retention. Reach me at +1 (518) 400 9081.