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How to brief a copywriter

If you’re thinking of hiring a copywriter, it will pay dividends – both for you and for them – if you can brief them fully on exactly what it is you want. Here are Comma Chameleon’s top tips on what you’ll need to tell your copywriter to get the best out of them…

The copywriting brief

When you’ve been copywriting for as long as we have, you see a lot of briefs.

Not of the undercrackers variety, of course. We’re talking about copywriting briefs. Those initial wish lists that a client will send through, outlining the scope of the job they want us to take on.

Copywriter brief template

Looking for a template you can fill in and send off? Here’s one on us. You’re welcome 😉

Some of these briefs are good. Some are bad. And others just leave us thinking ‘…!?’

The thing is, if you want great copy for your website, blog, brochure or whatever, you need to tell the writer you’re hiring exactly what it is you’re hoping for.

Most of Comma Chameleon’s copywriting clients come to us virtually. They come to us through our website, or via Facebook Messenger. We rarely get to meet them. Sometimes we don’t even speak to them. And we don’t always have the time to spend digging deep into the soul of their business to find out what makes them – and their customers – tick. That means that in order to produce the kind of content that’s going to happify our clients and their customers, we need our clients to tell us exactly what it is they want from us. In as much detail as possible.

This is where the brief comes in.

 

If you want great copy for your website, blog, brochure or whatever, you need to tell the writer you’re hiring exactly what it is you’re hoping for

 

Time is money

Here at Comma Chameleon, we charge by the hour for all our services. We generally knock off 10% for any job that takes us longer than five hours, but it still means our clients will want to get the best out of us in the shortest time possible. We work quickly, so we’ve got them covered on that front. But our clients can also save themselves some dough by making it easier for us to nail their content the first time round.

Now, we’ve been doing this for donkeys years. We can absolutely write engaging, effective content with little more information than a topic, the audience and the angle. But why would any discerning client want us to? The more information our clients can give us, the more likely they are to get exactly what they want.

The evergreen questions every copywriting brief needs to answer

Too little? Too late

Commissioning a blog post with a brief that says simply, ‘I need a blog post about good heart health’ is going to cause massive headaches for the client, as well as for us. Yes, we’ll write some wicked content on that topic. But what if we come back with a 600-word listicle on the best cardiovascular workouts for pre-teens, when what the client really wants is a 2,000-word authoritative article on safe ways to promote good heart health in octogenarians who are recovering from a stroke? We’d be so far wide of the mark with our first draft that it would necessitate a complete rewrite. And the clock would start ticking again.

No matter how good we are, without a bit more upfront information from the client, we’re going to struggle to give them exactly what they need.

But believe us when we say we want to get it right the first time every bit as much as our clients want us to.

 

Commissioning a blog post with a brief that says simply, “I need a blog post about good heart health” is going to cause massive headaches for the client, as well as for us

 

The evergreen questions

A good brief needn’t take too much time, but there are certain questions any good copywriter will want the answers to before they start researching and writing. Even if no more information is forthcoming after that, most copywriters should be able to make a good go at producing something along the lines of what’s expected.

Those questions are:

What kind of content is this? Is it a blog post, a brochure, a news piece, etc.?

Who is it for? Who’s going to be reading this piece?

What’s the angle? Are we soft-selling a product or service? Informing people, etc.?

How long should it be? What’s your word count?

What’s the tone of voice? Are there any examples of similar previous projects you can share with the copywriter? Or a similar piece by somebody else you want to emulate?

What’s the context? Is this piece part of a bigger campaign, or is it a standalone project?

Are we trying to push the reader towards a certain action? Do you want them to buy something? Sign up to a service? Visit your website, etc.?

What’s your deadline? When do you need the final version? Be sure to account for revisions and amendments.

 

What’s the tone of voice? Are there any examples of similar previous projects you can share with the copywriter? Or a similar piece by somebody else you want to emulate?

 

The perfect brief

A brief that answers the questions above should be a solid foundation on which any good copywriter can build a great piece of content. Certainly Comma Chameleon doesn’t get many briefs that are much more detailed than that. And that’s fine with us – those tidbits give us all the important bits of information we need to be able to create content that engages the right people, informs them about the right thing, and then converts them to the right action.

But in an ideal world, the perfect brief would go much deeper into the whys, the whos and the hows.

Here’s what the perfect brief would look like whooshing into the Comma Chameleon inbox.

Company details

Name of the company

What the company does

The company tagline or motto

A contact person for the project

 

Those tidbits give us all the important bits of information we need to be able to create content that engages the right people, informs them about the right thing, and then converts them to the right action

 

Project details

Project description: What type of content do you require? A blog, an offline article, a suite of product descriptions, etc.?

Scope and inclusions: What do we need to include/leave out?

Objectives: What do you want to achieve with this content?

Target audience: Who is going to be reading it?

Tone and style: How do you want to talk to your readers? What’s your brand voice? What vibe should the piece have?

Call to action: What do you want the readers to do when they’ve read the piece?

Constraints: What’s the word count? Will the design impact on the written content?

Deadlines: When do you need it by? When does it need to be signed off?

Keywords: Is this an online piece? Do you know your keywords and phrases for SEO?

 

The product or service

What is it?

What are the features?

What are the benefits of using/buying it?

What makes your product better than your competitor’s product?

Call to action

 

Company information

Company background: How long have you been in business? How/why did you get started?

Brand values: What is your company’s philosophy?

Ideal customer: Who does your business serve?

Customer pain points: Why do your customers need you? What keeps them awake at night?

Barriers to purchase: What generally stops people buying from you?

Value proposition: What does your business do to solve people’s problems? What’s the real value you bring?

Competitors: Who is your biggest industry competition?

Industry bodies: Who sets the tone and standards for your industry?

Alternatives: What are the viable alternatives to your product or service?

Your USP: What sets you apart? What makes your product or service special?

Testimonials: Do you have any quotes or testimonials from clients/product users?

Brand personality: Describe your business’s personality in five words.

Existing marketing material: Is this piece part of an ongoing campaign? Does it need to fit in with and refer to other pieces?

Clubs, industry memberships and awards: How can you prove your expertise?

 

You certainly shouldn’t be spending more time on writing the brief than it would take you to write the piece of copy you’re outsourcing. But undoubtedly the more information you can give to your copywriter, the more targeted and the more complete their work will be

 

Additional information

So the above details will arm your copywriter with everything they could possibly need to know in order to provide you with a piece of seamlessly on-brand content for use across your platforms.

But there is always more information you can offer up.

An ‘Additional information’ section of the copywriter’s brief allows you to get really specific on the details of the project in question. If there’s anything you don’t want the copywriter to include, tell them. If there are certain phrases or sources that might get you into trouble, mention them here.

You could also provide the copywriter with your company style guide, if you have one, and they will be able to nail alternate spellings, preferred capitalizations, etc., the first time around. You can also use this section of the brief to detail any formatting requirements, such as HTML, or how many words you need per section. This can be particularly important if you need a meta description writing. It will also pay you to think about your key words and phrases, including where they should appear about how frequently they should be used. How about external links, or internal ones? Also mention any imagery that you will be using alongside this piece, including any infographics.

 

If there’s anything you don’t want the copywriter to include, tell them. If there are certain phrases or sources that might get you into trouble, mention them

 

Submitting (to) the brief

As you can see, the perfect copywriting brief is a pretty detailed beast. Of course, you don’t always have to aim for perfect, and a good copywriter will be able to bang out a decent bit of content with just a few (albeit important) details. You certainly shouldn’t be spending more time on writing the brief than it would take you to write the piece of copy you’re outsourcing. But undoubtedly the more information you can give to your copywriter, the more targeted and the more complete their work will be.

We’ve put together a handy little template for you to download and use to your heart’s content. Grab the Copywriter’s Brief here

For more handy hints and tips, you’ll find loads over on our social channels. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. You could also have a dig through the archives of our blog, which is pretty well packed to the rafters with helpful pointers, guidance and advice.

Or you could just drop us a line. We’re friendly folk, and we’d be only too happy to help.

Happy briefing!

The Comma Chameleon team

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About Comma Chameleon

Comma Chameleon is a Manchester-based team of copywriters, editors and proofreaders, with decades of experience. We work with clients throughout the UK to bring colour to content and clarity to messages, no matter the size, format or platform. We simply love words, whether they’re yours or ours.

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