How to brief a copywriter to get the content you want

April 4, 2018


Do you know what really sucks? Buying something only to realise later it isn’t as good as you thought it would be. So, I own this really pretty pair of shoes. In the store they looked cute and comfortable, so I tried them on, walked around, and they felt great.

“I’ll take them!”

Turns out, they’re not as comfy as they look. They give me blisters every time. So now I have to either wear them with socks or stick bandaids on the back of my heels, which kinda ruins the look of the shoe and my outfit.

Now, clients who hire a professional copywriter and are disappointed with the content, are in a similar situation. The ‘ruined look’ is something about the copy ‘not being quite right’ or it doesn’t ‘sound like us’. And the sad reality is that the copywriter still has to be paid, even if you don’t use their work or have to spend your own time fine-tuning it. You are stuck with the uncomfortable ‘shoe’ because you’ve already bought it…

So to understand how you ended up with copy you didn’t like, my question is: did your copywriter have a brief?

I don't know if my copywriter got a brief?!

If right now you’re saying, “what’s one of those?” Or you think a copywriter should “just know what to write and get on with it” then let’s hold the horses and address what exactly a copywriter brief is, why it’s important and, critically, how one benefits the client.

(Hint: it has a lot to do with saving money and time.)

What is a copywriter brief?

Put simply, it’s a document that ensures your professional copywriter ‘gets it’.

It’s the magic that makes your industry knowledge, business personality, and BIG IDEA, fuse with your copywriter’s talent for super-slick messaging and marketing know-how.

It’s rare that a client and copywriter can read each other’s minds — so briefs are important. A briefing session to cover all the essentials you need your copy and content to include is a must. It puts you both on the same page, so your copywriter can deliver content you want: rather than what they think you want.

And the only way you’re gonna get what you want, is by doing the briefing properly.

If you half-arse your copywriter brief, bad things will happen!

If I get a brief that is, well, very brief, then the general pattern goes like this…

Thinking - how do I tackle this project?
Hmm, this is going to be tricky. Not much to go on…

Ah ha! Got it!
Think. Think. Think. Ah Ha! Got it!

Frantic typing
Huzzah! Frantic typing! Everything is falling into place!

The copy is submitted and I’m thinking ‘phew that was hard, but it’s done now!’.

But then the feedback arrives… The basic gist is: it’s not what the client had in mind. AT. ALL.

Tearing hair out
Where did it go so wrong?!

Struggle Street could have easily been avoided with a good, solid brief in place from the start.

But let’s not dwell on this sad scenario, because this won’t be happening to you or your copywriter. 

Good copywriters, who have their shiz together, should arrange a briefing session with you, the client. It’s usually after the statement of work has been agreed, but before fingers hit the keyboard.

What to cover in a copywriter brief

In my experience, the more detail you give, the stronger the copy you receive. The brief helps a writer know you, your business, and your audience.

At a bare minimum, a good brief should include these 10 things:

#1 Company and contact details

You may have just the one company, or you may own several. For clarity’s sake provide the name as it should appear, and any relevant associated websites.

Next, who does the copywriter ask if they have questions? Who gives feedback on drafts? Provide the name, email addie and phone number of this person.

#2 What media is being created?

A new website? An email campaign? A blog or social media post? Direct mail? The type of media will influence the writing style and approach that’s needed.

#3 Why does your business needs this media?

You could want to promote a product or offer, raise or push brand awareness, engage your audience, or introduce a new service. A single piece of media can have more than one purpose, so the more detail about why it’s needed, the better.

#4 What’s the unique selling point (USP)?

Be clear about what sets this business, product, or service apart from any competitors. Simple bullet points are easy for the copywriter to refer to.

#5 Who’s your target audience?

This is THE question, IMHO. Knowing the audience allows us to build a picture. Details about their age, gender, socioeconomic background and known interests help a copywriter adjust the language and tone to suit that specific market.


Who are these people? Is she our audience? What about that older guy over there? Or that other couple down the front?

#6 What problem is your audience facing? How will this media help solve the problem?

It’s good marketing and content communication to identify an audience’s problem, and then help solve it. A brief should include notes on the audience’s pain point and how your product or service is the solution.

#7 What action do you want the audience to take?

After your audience has consumed your media, what do you want them to do? It might be buy a product, sign up to something, read something else, or even pick up the phone to call your company. Be specific about the result you want for the best chance of achieving it.

#8 What documentation do you have?

Use documentation to instil trust and strengthen the relationship between brand and audience. Documentation could be, research, case studies or testimonials. Detail these in the brief or just provide links to the information.

#9 SEO considerations

For any briefs that are going online, make sure you note any keywords or phrases you want included.

#10 Deadline

Setting the deadline should be the last thing you do. Getting all the other info down first puts you in a better position to estimate how long the job might take. If in doubt, talk to your copywriter, who’ll have experience with turn around times.

But Rose, you didn’t ask about budget?

Correct. I did not. By the time you reach the briefing stage, stuff like budget and payment schedules should have been agreed.

After all, there’s no point in you and your copywriter wasting time on a briefing meeting, only to realise you’ve both got very different figures in your head about cost.

How my copywriting briefing process works

As a journalist-copywriter-content writer hybrid, I love a good brief. This bit of the process appeals to my nosey-parker inquisitive side.

I want to know everything about you, your business, your project and your audience.

Tell me more

Sure, I can send you a form to fill in and that’ll be really helpful. But I’d rather have an upbeat, positive briefing session face-to-face or over the phone. And I think it’s conducive to prep questions specific to you and your business, then get together and let the interview unfurl organically.

This is how I help you unearth your unique selling points and get into those nitty-gritty details that a good brief needs.

Seriously, I get excited in a geeky kind of way when talking about how fun, interesting and engaging it can all be.

OK, I’ll rein it back in. But at least now you understand how to brief a copywriter, and why it’s important.

Ready to brief?

You can avoid that ‘uncomfortable shoe’ feeling. Even if you can’t quite put your finger on exactly what it is you want. I’m pretty decent at asking the right questions to help you get to a conclusion.

Drop me a quick message (no obligation) and lets see how I can help.

Tell me your content and copywriting needs

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