How to brief your copywriter

Business Writing That Sells. Part 9

I’ve been a professional writer since 1998 and as Editor for The Business Show and Business Startup, I have worked with literally thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs to improve their content marketing. As a freelance copywriter specialising in content marketing, I meet and talk with many entrepreneurs, start-up founders and owners of SMEs on a regular basis. I will share some of my secrets and tricks of the trade with you here. Today, we look at how to brief your copywriter effectively – and how to use that brief to benefit your business.


What is a brief?

In its simplest form, a brief just explains to your writer what you want to say to whom and why. To put that in marketing speak, it sets out your core message, target market and objectives. You can’t just expect them to ‘know’ how you want a press release or article to read. We’re a pretty intuitive bunch, but even copywriters aren’t mind readers!

Even if you’ll be writing your own copy, then taking the time to set out a clear, concise brief will help focus your mind. This article explains how I work and what I look for as a professional copywriter; I hope this insight helps you to understand the process and deliver more professional results yourself. And if you ever need to bring in a professional, maybe you’ll remember how I helped.

If you’ve worked together previously and your writer ‘gets’ you and your business, then a brief might just be a three-line email. On the other hand, if they’re new to you, then it could be a six-page brand bible and marketing strategy template, complete with style guide. I’ve received plenty of both in my time as a copywriter…

It’s up to you how much or how little detail to include, but there’s a happy medium somewhere in the middle. Not enough information could leave your copywriter trying to read between the lines and scratching about for information, so don’t be surprised if their aim is wide of the mark. On the other hand, too much detail could swamp their thinking and obscure what the writing’s really about. To start with, send them an overview of the highly relevant information and be ready to offer more insight if they ask for it. Copywriters are curious and we like to follow our noses to the core of a ‘story’.


What is a good brief?

There are probably as many answers to this question as there are copywriters, but I can tell you the things that I value when starting a commission.

  • What your brand stands for
  • Who your reader is
  • The one message or idea you want to leave with the reader
  • What you want them to do, think or believe differently after they have read ‘your’ words
  • What results do you want to this communication to achieve
  • Where it will be published – both the medium (online or print), as well as the actual site or publication if possible


Less is more

I will then reduce everything you have told me to one sentence. You’re not getting short shrift and I’m not dismissing the nuances of your communication. What I’m doing is distilling it into its purest form. This is single malt whiskey, not some alcopop. And if you can serve it up to me that way from the beginning, I know that I will love looking after your account.

I won’t waste your time with the meandering version that runs to hundreds of words, but here’s a good example:

“As a retailer of automotive modifications, I want our male customers aged 17-24 to believe that our products make their cars unique, so they’ll buy parts from us after reading an online article on ‘hotcarforexampledotcom’”

Although clunky in structure, the sentiment of the sentence is simple and serves as my rudder when I’m navigating the countless decisions that I will make when crafting your content. It brings me back to the heart of the proposition every time. Reducing everything to one sentence might sound restrictive, but it’s actually liberating.

And that explains the copywriter’s old joke:

Briefs? The tighter they are, the better they fit.


If you find the series – or any of the articles in it – useful, please share them via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog. I’d really appreciate it, thanks. If you need professional copywriting for anything from your new web copy to marketing collateral and press releases, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today to find out how I could help your business.

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