briefing a copywriter


Do you know the single most important golden rule that you should always follow when briefing a copywriter?

It’s quite obvious really, but often gets overlooked.

If you’re not sure, let me tell you a story.

First thing on Monday you’re called into your line manager’s office.

“There’s a bit of restructuring happening at the moment,” you’re told. “We’re repackaging some of our services so we need some new brochures putting together.”

Your heart sinks because you know how much work is going to be involved.

“We’ve got some budget left over,” he continues. “That means you can call in that copywriter again that you used last time.”

Phew. That’s a relief.

He then proceeds to spend a couple of hours briefing you on the new services and how they’re going to benefit your customers.

Once back at your desk you give your copywriter a call to make sure she has capacity for your job. She does. Great, all systems go.

Your brief is a cobbled together email outlining the services that are changing, attaching the old marketing materials that you have. Your instructions to her are to simply revisit the old stuff but with a focus on transforming business services rather than them having to start from scratch.

When she queries things with you, in particular the important new information that needs including, you reassure her that it’s not a major job and it’s really just changing the focus of the original message and there are no big changes to make.

After a few days she emails the initial draft to you for your feedback.

With great anticipation you open the document only for your heart to sink. OK, the focus has changed as you’d asked, but what about the new service elements, information about the new regulations etc.?

That’s when it hits you.

The brief you gave was far from complete because you were in such a rush to get it out. You’d made the mistake of assuming your copywriter had the same in depth knowledge about your services as you (she doesn’t), she also wasn’t at the briefing meeting with you. That means she is completely reliant on you providing all the information she needs.

You could argue that she should have not taken the job on until she had all the information. But, if you recall, she queried several things and specifically asked about important new information to which your response was there were no big changes.

Because your brief was so poor, you now have to either a) re-brief (and apologise) and get her to make the changes, or b) take it on the chin, make the updates yourself and then get her to refine it.

Either way you’ve wasted time.

Briefs shouldn’t be brief

When working with your copywriter it’s important to remember that they are completely reliant on your input to do their job.

You are the expert in your field so it’s down to you to tell them:

  • The background to put the project into context
  • The goal of the project
  • Details about the service or product
  • The benefits associated with the product or service
  • Your company’s USP (unique selling point)
  • Who your audience is and why they need your product or service
  • How you want the project to be written (voice, layout, content etc.)

While imparting all this information it’s also essential that you do so in plain English without jargon.

If you don’t it’s like asking a builder to build you house without input and then complaining he built you a bungalow when you wanted a 5 bedroom executive home with swimming pool and landscaped gardens.

The one thing you mustn’t do is assume they have the same level of product knowledge as you.

The output will only ever be as good as the input, so make sure your brief is clear, comprehensive and complete.