A good brief gives your copywriter the insight and information they need to write effective, compelling copy, whatever the medium.

A good brief answers key questions for your copywriter. Photo by Stefan Baudy

What's the gist?

Start by summing up in a sentence or two what you want your copywriter to do. Give yourself a 25-word limit and kick off your copywriting brief with a simple summary.

For example, you might write:

We want you to write a website to sell our new web-based accounting software to small businesses across the UK.”

Your summary doesn't have to be too polished (that’s your copywriter’s job, after all). Just spell out clearly what you want. And then move on to the most important important bit: the reader.

Who’s your reader?

When it comes to copywriting, it's all about the audience. Understanding who they are and what they like will help your copywriter find words that push people’s buttons, make them take action.

When you come to write a brief for your copywriter, it helps to think of readers as individual characters in your story. If you have them, use personas based on demographic profiles to paint a picture of the people you want your copywriter to focus on.

You might include something like:

Roger is the manager of a small catering company. He uses an accountant to do his bookkeeping and is keen to save money wherever he can. Although the business has a website, Roger delegates the job of updating it. He uses the Internet most at home in the evening to research suppliers and potential customers.”

For projects like websites, you may find your copy needs to appeal to more than one type of reader. Just remember your copywriter can’t please everyone all the time, so focus on the most important personas in your brief.

And remember to include details of where people will be reading your copywriter’s work. If you’re producing a poster, where will you put it? If you’re sending an email, is it going to their work or home address?

When you’ve given your copywriter a good idea of who they’re writing for, tell them what you want to persuade the reader to do.

What’s your goal?

Use your brief to spell out what you want the reader to do and why you think they’ll do it.

Yes, you want them to buy your product or to join your organisation. But why do you think they’ll want to do it? If you’re writing a company newsletter, why will they be interested in what you have to say?

So, to continue the example above, you want Roger to buy your product. And you’re going to get him to buy it by showing him that it will make his life easier and save him money.

This gives your copywriter lots to go on — the foundation on which they can build a persuasive argument for the reader. Now they just need to know a few more details.

What are the benefits?

Here’s the part where copywriters often get overloaded with information. So rather than including everything you know in the brief, highlight how the reader will benefit.

Yes, you should tell your copywriter about the programming language your web-based accounting software is written in, but let them know why this makes it ideal for small businesses. For example, does it run quickly, even on older machines and slow web connections?

The more benefits you can include in your brief, the more material your copywriter will have to work with. All that remains is to let your copywriter know more about your plans for design and production.

Where will you put the words?

Include as much as you know about how you’ll use your copywriter’s words. For example, if you’re creating a website, supply wireframes that include an explanation of what you want each page to do. You can use straightforward online tools like Jumpchart to plan websites.

If you want your copywriter to work with a designer, now’s the time to introduce them. The more the writer knows about how their words will be used, the better. Even if you can only give them a word count at this stage, it will help.

When do you want it for?

Also, make sure your brief includes at least an outline project plan with milestones and a deadline that you can agree with your copywriter. Most copywriters we know pride themselves on never missing a deadline, so be honest and realistic about your timescales. They’ll let you know what’s possible.

What next?

Finally, agree what will happen next. Maybe you’d like your copywriter to respond to your brief with an estimate or initial ideas. Perhaps you’ve already agreed costs and you’d like a first draft.

It might be that your copywriter asks you for some more information before they can start writing. Just make sure both you and your copywriter know what’s happening next and who’s doing it.

Briefing by phone

What if you just don’t have time to write a brief for your copywriter? Here’s our tip: get your copywriter to do it for you.

Hold a quick conference call and use this post as a template for the conversation. Then ask your copywriter to draw up a one-page brief to check you agree on what’s involved.

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