Before we get stuck in, let me give this post a bit of context.
This post is made up of a mixture of #ContentClubUK responses, and my own commentary on some of the points made by other freelancers. Credit where credit is due – they’ve done the leg work.
If you haven’t come across it – #ContentClubUK is a weekly Twitter chat where, for 30 minutes, a squad of amazing freelancers respond to 3 questions and share their (always) incredible advice.
On Tuesday July 16th 2019, I took a turn to host the chat.
After initially um-ing and ah-ing over which questions I would ask, I decided to roll with the theme of briefs.
*Queue underwear jokes*.
And just so that no one turned up and embarrassed themselves…
A near disaster averted for someone, I’m sure. (Just kidding)
Luckily, no one came armed and ready to discuss their favourite type of under garment.
Instead, of course, the trusty #ContentClubUK folk came equipped with their humour, their expert advice, and their best tighty-whitey gifs.
But enough chat about undies.
You’re likely reading this post because you want a better understanding of the ins and outs of a high-quality copywriting brief.
You’re probably keen to take heed of the advice of other freelancers that will show you how to avoid falling into the pitfalls of a poorly constructed brief.
You’re maybe even here because you’re not too sure how long you should be spending on the brief stage.
That’s great! Because you’re in the right place.
This post will answer three main questions:
Q1| What are the features of a quality brief?
Q2| How much time is it worth spending on the brief stage?
Q3| What are some of the pitfalls of not having a quality and thorough brief?
But, just before we jump in and get you clued up on briefs…
…what’s the point of a brief?
The brief stage of any project is the initial communication between you – as the copywriter – and your client. It’s the time spent gathering the important details of the project, and it’s the opportunity to set the boundaries and the expectations of what the job entails.
The brief is the foundation that will eventually set the project in motion.
Not only that, but it becomes your point of reference throughout the content creation process.
Done right, and it will guide you with all the right information you need to do the job well. Done poorly, and you’ll be blindly guessing and fumbling every step of the way.
So, ready to get your briefs on fleek?
Let’s do this.
Q1 | What are the features of a quality brief?
For the first question, I figured the best way to get the #ContentClubUK party started was to define what a good brief looks like, and what features constitute a quality brief.
And my fellow freelancers did not disappoint.
Here’s just a handful of their awesome responses:
Alright, a lot to unpack here.
The thing that stands out most in these answers is that a quality brief should cover a lot of ground – and that there’s no pants emoji. What’s that all about?!
Joking aside, the brief is the opportunity to initiate an open and friendly communication channel with your client – where you find out more about their business or company, what their values and goals are, and how you – as the copywriter – fit into helping them on their way to achieve that.
Chris Guiton (@WealdenWordsmi1) raises a great point in his answer. He explains that a quality brief should be “something that balances aspiration with deliverability“.
This sits at the very essence of how a good copywriter can benefit their client’s business.
A quality brief should promote a balance between being able to deliver realistic results while helping your client’s business achieve their marketing goals, and successfully reach out to their target audience.
Ed Callow (@EdCallowWrites) also touches on an important point in his response. Sometimes, in respect to their marketing strategy, a client may not be completely sure what exactly it is they need a copywriter to do to move their business in the right direction.
After all, they’re considering hiring you because you’re the one who’s proficient in this department.
As copywriters, we should allow the brief stage to be an opportunity to encourage the discussion of new ideas – and if the client open to it, give them the chance to process and reconsider other options that they feel may be more effective for their business.
To summarise what a brief should include, I’ve created a list.
The concrete features of a quality brief include…
PURPOSE OF THE CONTENT
- What the purpose of the content is – outlined clearly and succinctly.
- What the client is hoping to achieve with the content.
- What specific points, key arguments and messages the client wants the content to convey.
- Anything specific the client wants you to mention within the copy.
- Anything specific that the client DOES NOT want you to mention within the copy.
- A profile of who the target audience/market are.
- What the audience/market’s pain-points and frustrations are.
- What the client aims to do to help their audience/market.
- What the main influences are that affect the target audience/market’s decisions to buy from the client.
- How the client wants their audience/market to feel when consuming their content/product/service.
- What the calls to action are.
TECHNICAL DETAILS ABOUT THE PROJECT
- The type of deliverable(s) the client is looking for (blog posts, email sequences, brochures, website copy).
- A clear word count (or word count range).
- An idea of the structure of the copy.
- The channels or platforms the content is designed for (social media, the client’s website, email, print).
- Any supporting files and documents that would help you – as the writer.
- Any research links.
- What the keywords are (and if the client already knows any of the keywords).
- Clear deadlines and timeframes.
- The client’s budget information.
- Clear pricing – that has been agreed before the work begins.
- How the project is being managed and who is involved in the process.
- Clarity regarding who needs to be consulted before the work is considered complete.
- Clarity about who’s signing work off.
- Any in-house company rules, including any do’s and don’ts.
- Who the other contributors are (designers, etc.).
- The company’s history, philosophy and values.
- Distinguished brand guidelines, including the company’s preferred tone of voice.
- What the client’s business aims and objectives are, and how the content you produce will complement those.
- Context of the client’s wider marketing strategy, and how the content you produce will fit into that.
- Details about the features of the client’s product or service.
- The unique selling point (USP) of the client’s product or service.
- Information about the already existing marketing material.
- What the client does and doesn’t like about their existing marketing material.
- Clarity on if the client wants new content that will complement or digress from their existing marketing material.
- Any examples of marketing materials that client has seen that they like the look or the tone of.
- Details about the client’s main competitors.
- Alternatives to the client’s product or service.
- What the client seeks to do differently to stand out from the competition – and how the content you produce can help them achieve that.
- How the client prefers to communicate with you beyond the initial brief stage (email, phone, Skype).
- What the expected end results from you – as the copywriter – are.
- What the client’s preferred delivery format is.
- An agreement for any re-writes or editing.
While this list covers a lot of different bases, it’s by no means fully comprehensive.
Writing it out made me realise just how many different components there are to consider when preparing a project brief.
My advice would be: don’t delude yourself and think you can just ‘wing‘ the brief. It’s a guaranteed way to miss crucial details that you’re only going to have to spend time going back to the client and getting later. And to be completely honest, who knows how long that may take?
The take-away here is to make sure that you have a brief that prompts you to collect as much of the information as you can, as early on into the project as possible.
Which, by the way, provides a nice transition onto the next question…
Q2 | How much time is it worth spending on the brief stage, and why?
For Question 2, I asked about how long a brief should take.
I wanted to get a better understanding of how worthwhile other freelancers feel the brief stage is.
To no surprise, everyone unanimously agreed that spending time on the brief stage is pretty, damn, important.
Think I’m a ‘liar, liar pants on fire’? (Last underwear joke, I promise).
I’ll let these answers do the talking:
Okay, no need to get your map and torch ready – the answer to this one is loud and clear.
What matters here isn’t necessarily the amount of minutes and hours you spend constructing a brief. What really matters is that both you – as the copywriter – and your client are comfortable and confident with the details of the project, and what’s expected on both sides of the exchange.
The brief should take as long as it needs to to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
Which leads us on nicely to the final question…
Q3 | What are some of the pitfalls of not having a quality and thorough brief?
While it’s important to talk about the features that you should include if you want your brief to be thorough, it’s as equally important to know why it’s important to get it right.
For Question 3, I asked about some of the headaches that come as inevitable symptoms of a poorly constructed brief.
To get a more definitive idea of this, my fellow freelancers dipped into their own experiences and highlighted some of the frustrations they’ve confronted when the brief hasn’t been up to scratch.
Take a look at these answers:
Yikes. Any one of those situations sounds like a complete nightmare.
The thought of confusing, directionless and unfocused work; full re-writes; no motivation to get the work done; speaking to the wrong audience/markets; producing ‘meh‘, sub-par work; and potentially disappointing your clients are all reasons enough to want to get the brief right.
So, to sum this post up…
Briefs are an absolutely essential part of the creative process.
A lot of the success of a brief (and from there, the project) rests on how good the initial communication is between you and your client.
To make the most of the brief stage, it’s crucial to know what questions to ask, in order to prompt your client to give you the all-important information that will make your job much easier during the writing process.
Remember to spend as much time as is needed to ensure that both you and your client are as comfortable and as confident in what’s expected from both parties. That way, everyone is on the same page.
To conclude this post, I’ll say this:
I’ll bet there’s never been a copywriter who’s regretted being too thorough at the brief stage – and now we know there’s a good reason for that.
What? Isn’t this post enough for you?
Okay, I’ll bite.
Here’s 3 superb brief-related resources to keep you going:
- @MegRFreelance‘s awesome blog post about ‘Starting from scratch: Things your copywriter will want to know’
- @amyboylanwrites‘ insightful post that explains ‘How a strong copywriting brief can boost your business’
- @copywritemattrs‘ handy guide that outlines ‘The secret to mind-blowing copywriting? A detailed copywriting brief.’
Let me just finish on a massive thank you for reading this #Write52 post. It has been awesome to have you here.
I also want to take this as an opportunity to credit everyone who provided amazing responses to these #ContentClubUK questions – there were way too many good ones to include them all in this post. If you’d like to get involved, #ContentClubUK is held every Tuesday at 11am GMT.
As well as that, Ed has been working to compile all of the #Write52 posts each week in a handy email newsletter – which you can sign up to here. Be sure to do that, and you won’t miss a trick.