How to brief your copywriter

TypewriterGood copy will reflect the unique tone of voice of your brand, while standing out from the competition and triggering your target customers to respond.

Good copy should win you business.

Bad copy will almost certainly help you lose it.

But copywriters are not magicians.

The quality of work you get from your copywriter will depend on the quality of the brief you give them.

The more work you put into preparing a good brief, the sooner you’ll get a result you’re happy with.

Top tips for a good brief

Ideally, you’ll provide the brief in writing. Yes, even for regular or urgent work. This saves time and money and avoids any misunderstandings.

A written briefing process forces you to be clear about what you want. It obliges you to provide the information we need. And it can inspire the best creative work in response.

Get it right, and a good brief will result in the first draft being the final draft.

It’s why I send prospective clients 20 ‘discovery’ questions followed by a phone or Skype conversation to ask supplementary questions and fill in any gaps. People tell me they find this a useful thought process, and their answers give me all the information I need to quote and do a good job.

The written brief also acts as part of the contract between you and your copywriter.

Inspiring and motivating

A good copywriter will write differently for each client.

I often get asked to write Plain English. To keep the copy short and sweet and punchy. That’s fine. But it doesn’t always have the wow factor. It can lack personality.

That’s why I love getting a brief from a client that is clear about who they are and how they’d like to talk to their customers.

For example, I remember one week when I was writing for a hair salon who wanted edgy fashion-forward copy, a coffee/tea wholesaler who wanted a family tone of voice, and an online retailer who wanted to sound young and friendly.

Variety spices things up and keeps our work interesting. And it means you get a style that is uniquely yours and ‘talks’ to your customers more effectively.

Making amendments

If the brief isn’t clear, your copywriter will have to make their best guess. We might be intuitive, but we’re not mind-readers, so you might find the copy misses the mark from your perspective.

Rather than going back to your copywriter with suggested changes, it’s best to go back to them with the problem as you perceive it. They will use their editing skills to incorporate the amendments you require while maintaining the flow and sense they have carefully crafted into the first draft.

When this happens, it’s nice to tell us what you like and appreciate about the work so far, as well as what you’d like done differently.

We want you to be happy and we’re not precious about every word we’ve written. (Well, not always.) When you respect our creative temperament and you’re gentle with your changes, we’ll be more inclined to make the edits you require with good grace. 

Measuring success

Your copywriter needs to know the desired outcome of the marketing piece they are working on.

Are you trying to:

  • Boost your Google ranking?
  • Get clickthroughs from an email to your website?
  • Collect more sign-ups to your newsletter?
  • Attract more inbound leads from your contact page?
  • Something else?

When it comes to measuring success, the numbers are more important than the words.

The clue is in the name

Keep it brief. If the brief is too long and complicated, there’s a greater risk of confusion.

Background information is useful, but provide too much of it and your copywriter will drown in the detail. Here are the main sections you need to include:

  • Where are we now
  • Where do we want to be
  • What are we doing to get there
  • Who do we need to talk to
  • How will we know we’ve arrived
  • Practicalities
    • Budgets
    • Timings
    • Other considerations
  • Approvals

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