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How To Brief A Copywriter To Get The Best Results

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How To Brief A Copywriter To Get The Best Results

Helen Say

How to brief a copywriter - you are here

[Photo by John Baker on Unsplash]


Does an actor learn his lines without a script?

Does a student learn without instructions from a teacher?

Did you learn to drive without an instructor?

If you want something done right, you need to give directions. And the key to getting the most out of your copywriter is to provide a descriptive and insightful brief.

I’m sure you can see the sense in this. Yet quite often when the subject comes up in conversation with a new client, the reaction I get is the equivalent to me asking them to hand over their first-born child. Or the keys to their car. Or to take me on holiday with them.

A good copywriter needs a brief - no argument

For some it appears that writing down what they need from me is just too much like hard work. I’ve actually had one erstwhile client say to me (not paraphrasing in the slightest here): “Oh I can’t be bothered, you write the brief and I’ll sign it off”. That relationship didn’t last very long, thankfully.

Yet if you don’t just take a little bit of time to brief me properly, the risk is that what you get back will be a string of words that might be easy to read, but they won’t address your target audience or include your key messages.  

Yes it can be time-consuming if you’re not used to it, but asking me to write something for you without a brief is like asking me to fly blind. It’s a critical step and here’s why:-

1. I can’t write about something I don’t really understand, especially if it’s a new market to me [Well, technically I can but you might not like the result]

2. The end product will be of much better quality [see Point 1 above]

3. It keeps both of us accountable for the end result

Let me give you an example of why this works

I have a client for whom I have been ghost-writing blogs for over a year. They target a very particular market and have a very particular language and style. The first blog I ever wrote for them took four drafts to get right. The most recent was nailed in one  – I’m that much in tune with what they want.

This doesn’t happen overnight. It’s taken months of working together to arrive at such an organic process. And it all started with them giving me a proper copywriting brief (with a deal of encouragement from me). Now, not only do I have their tone of voice and style down to a fine art, they know exactly what I require from them for each new article without me needing to prompt. This doesn’t only shorten the creative process quite considerably. Whatever the new topic is I know I can create great content that’s bang on brief practically the first time out of the gate. And they know they can rely on me to produce it. It’s a win-win situation

A copywriting brief is a good thing - let's agree

What goes into a copywriting brief?

When we first talk, there are just a few basic things I need to know – call this Part A. Like who your target market is, what you want to say to them (your key message) and how you want them to react (the Call to Action). From that I can scope out the amount of effort required and give you a fixed price for the work.

By the way if you can’t even articulate these basic elements, then I will silently be judging you. While at the same time privately despairing over my ability to write anything you’ll find remotely acceptable.

If we agree to proceed, that’s when I’ll send you a template to fill in, which is my Copywriting Brief – call this Part B.

On the assumption that Part A was completed fully then 50% of the work required for Part B is done. Most of the rest is quantitative (i.e. basic company details).

But there’s a few more qualitative insights I need:-

  • Your brand positioning

  • Your tone of voice

  • Any target keywords

  • F-A-B or Features-Advantages-Benefits

Ah now. It’s this last bit of detail that sometimes floors clients (like the one mentioned earlier who was so flummoxed by this question they asked me to do their thinking for them. “Entitled” doesn’t even begin to describe it...)

I fully acknowledge that unless you are a totally switched on marketer (and most business owners are too busy being a totally-switched-on-everything-else too) then the answers to these questions can take time to write down.

But seriously, if  you can’t convey some fundamentals around why your product is so great and why your customers should care, then how can you expect me to write good copy for you? Without sharing these insights with me what you’re likely to get will be bland, vanilla-flavoured copy that you won’t be able to pick out of a line-up. And I’ll still charge you the same.

Yes you need to formulate your thoughts, but if we are going to work together successfully then the sooner you can wrap your brain around these critical factors, the more value I can give you.

For a no-obligation chat about your copywriting needs, contact me.