How to Create the Perfect Copywriting Brief
For new entrepreneurs, hiring a copywriter is often an unfamiliar task. They’re not always sure about how much direction to give a writer and more often than not -- at least in my experience -- a quick conversation is usually all the direction that is provided to a writer.
However, this can lead to issues with the content. While it’s important to have a conversation about the content you want and how you want it, it’s also crucial to include a copywriting brief.
Importance of having a copywriting brief
Think of a copywriting brief like a map. If you ask me how to get to a specific destination and I just tell you, you may or may not get there. The chances of you forgetting a detail or misinterpreting a detail are fairly high.
However, if I sketch out a simple map for you, the chances of you taking a wrong turn decrease and if I draw you a detailed map, you’re even more likely to get to your destination.
That’s what a copywriting brief is. It’s a map to where you want the writer to go. The more detailed you can make it, the higher the probability of your copywriter getting to your preferred destination. That’s not to say you should give them a tome to digest. But, you should give them something to reference when they need it.
Let’s take a look at what you should include in your copywriting brief to help steer the content in the right direction.
What to include in your copywriting brief
One or two pages is a good length for a business writing brief. You want it to be clear and informative, but not overwhelming. In general, your brief should cover the following. Some of these kind of overlap, but it’s better to give more detail than less.
Name of the project
If you already have a title picked out, then just use that. If you don’t have a title yet, name it using the subject matter and the type of content. “QR code landing page content” or “fall lawn care blog post” for example.
Date the brief was prepared
Things can change over time, so it’s good to know what date the brief was prepared, especially if there is a long gap between the preparation of the brief and the hiring of a writer. If the brief was written months ago, it may need to be updated.
Subject of content
This is the overarching subject matter of the content piece. You can go into why your company wants to write this content here. Knowing the reason a piece of content is being written can be helpful to a writer.
Who the writer should address questions to. Ideally, this would be the person who also prepared the brief so there is no disconnect between the info contained in the brief and the person answering the writer’s questions.
You should talk deadlines with your copywriter prior to giving them the brief so these don’t come as a surprise. You’ll also need to make sure that you can also hit the deadlines, meaning when the writer gives you the first draft, you should be able to look it over and get it back to them with any suggestions so they have plenty of time to hit the second draft and final draft deadlines.
This simply means telling the writer if this is a landing page, a blog post, a video script, etc. You’ve probably spoken to them about this and it might be in the name of the project, but it’s still helpful to include it for them and anyone who will have to work on the project after the writing is done.
You can have a minimum or a maximum word count depending on what type of content it is. Note that if you have a high word count, the subject matter should warrant that amount of words. If you want a 4,000+ word blog post about a subject, there should be enough available information to warrant that length. If not, you’ll get at least some “filler content,” which is basically just fluff meant to fill out a word count. (You’ll be familiar with this if you’ve ever written an essay with a minimum word count for school.)
And if you have a maximum word count for a subject that has a ton of important information that you want included, you’ll need to sacrifice some of that information to fit the word count while still having the content flow nicely.
If the content is going on your own site, you can easily adjust the word count if necessary. If the content is meant for another site, respect that site’s word count. They have their minimum or maximum word counts for a reason and it’s not likely that they’ll make an exception for you.
Again, this might be something that is already in the project’s name or in the Content Type category, but it’s helpful to the writer to know what the content is going to be used for and even how it’s going to be repurposed. So, if the original content is for a blog post and you’re going to repurpose it later for a podcast and then an infographic, you can put that here.
If the content is going on your own site, then it’s almost certainly for SEO purposes -- most business writing is -- so let the writer know what keywords to include. If your research is comprehensive, you can even give them a density to aim for.
This is where you give your copywriter the list of resources you’ve gathered during your preliminary research. These could be blog posts, studies, links to competitors’ pages, podcasts, videos, infographics, whatever you think might help the writer create the content.
This is a journalism term that basically means the point or theme of a story. For example, if a new law is passed, a reporter could look at the environmental angle, or how the law is going to affect the environment. They could look at the financial angle, or how this new law is going to affect both the finances of the government and any of the public it may affect.
You may want to write a blog post about how this new law would affect your target audience. For example, whenever Google releases an update to its algorithms, you can bet there will be a thousand blog posts about how the new algorithm updates will affect your site.
Angles are especially good to know for writing press releases because anything you can do to make the journalist’s job easier is more likely to get your press release noticed.
Tone, or tone of voice, is how comical, serious, formal or casual you want your content to be. Writing a text to your friend is about as informal as you can get while academic writing is about as formal as it gets.
The vast majority of business writing falls into the “authoritative, but conversational” tone, which means the content should invoke confidence in the reader that your business knows what it’s talking about, but the language should be conversational, like you were talking with an acquaintance.
Your brand personality and the audience you’re writing for should dictate your tone. For example, if you’re a children’s toy brand and you’re writing for kids, your tone may even be something like “wacky” or “silly.” If it’s content for a funeral home website, you may opt for a sombre tone.
Including this is optional, but helpful. You should know the personality of your brand and be able to tell that to the copywriter. If you’re not sure what your brand’s personality is, that’s something you should try to figure out before you start creating content.
There are whole other blog posts about what brand personality is, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but suffice to say that on a basic level, they are the human attributes you would want your brand to be known for. (Or, to put it another way, if your brand was a person, what would they be like.)
For copywriting purposes, this need not be too long. A few adjectives to act as a guideline are fine. If your brand is “fun,” the writer may opt to try some humour. If it’s serious, they’ll probably eschew any jokes, so this kind of thing is good to know.
This is incredibly important to include, so don’t skip over this one. Your copywriter needs to know who they are writing this piece for. Is meant to be consumed by CEOs who are well versed in the subject matter or is it for the general public who probably aren’t familiar with the subject?
Knowing who the piece is aimed at will help the writer with deciding how in-depth to go when explaining things. For example, if the audience is expected to be well-versed in the subject matter, then it’s no use explaining the basics, but if the audience is expected to be mostly beginners to the subject, then you’ll obviously need to explain the basics.
Ideal Buyer Persona
Optional, but if you have an ideal buyer persona already, then it’s worth sharing with your copywriter. If you don’t have one yet, then you should probably make one before you get into the whole content thing. Unlike a target audience, which is a broader group of people, an ideal buyer persona is a specific (fictional) person with specific problems your organization solves. Depending on the piece of content, you may not need to get that pointed with it, but having someone in mind to write for is helpful.
Complexity of writing
This is largely dictated by your audience and relates to the complexity of the words actually used in the piece. If you’re aiming at people you know are familiar with the subject matter and are highly educated, you may want to give your writer leeway to use big and/or seldom used words. If you are going for a more general audience, then you may want them to use simple words that most people will know.
If I remember correctly, when I was in journalism school a thousand years ago, we were told to aim for a Grade 8 reading level. Unless you’re absolutely sure your audience is going to be highly educated with large vocabularies, it’s probably best to aim for easy-to-understand language that people would be likely to use in conversation.
(So, don’t use words like “tome.”)
Ideal Customer Response
Not something that is always included in briefs, but really should be. This is what you want the readers to feel after they’ve finished the piece. Note that this isn’t the same as a call-to-action. Obviously, you want your readers to take some kind of action that brings them closer to you, like joining your email list or calling your company for example. But, even if they don’t take that kind of action, they should still feel like they got something out of your content.
The ideal customer response could be that they feel informed. This will help build trust and authority for your brand. If the piece is meant to elicit an emotion, the ideal response would be for the reader to feel the emotion you were going for. This means they’ve made some kind of emotional connection with your brand.
Outline or wireframe
You may opt to do this or ask the writer to prepare one for your approval. Either way, there should be an outline to follow before the piece is written.
For articles and press releases, the outline is fairly easy to create. For website content, it gets a bit trickier because websites aren’t just written in paragraphs like an article. As a writer, I like to see the website design before I start the content so I can see where the content is meant to go. I’ve heard that some designers prefer to have the content first. In general, I think it’s a good idea to have a template picked out if you’re using a template. If you’re designing from scratch, I would still recommend having some kind of rough outline of the site to follow.
This is where you put anything that didn’t fit in any of the above categories. Any additional research or examples you have, if you want the copywriter to source their own photos, perform extra research or add tags to the content. If you have a style guide for your brand, you can link it here if you haven’t already.
What you should expect to get back
If you’ve provided your copywriter with all the above information, then you should expect to get back an outline (if you haven’t given them one) that you can look over and approve followed by a well-written piece that has the appropriate tone and targets your ideal audience.
When you get the piece back, make sure you have someone from your target audience look it over. If it’s written for someone with a beginner’s level of knowledge of the subject matter, don’t have an expert review it! And if it’s written for an expert, don’t have someone who is not knowledgeable review it.
If you’re an entrepreneur who is just starting out, try to get some of your guideline pieces done before you start creating content. These are things like your brand personality, your ideal customer persona, your branding guidelines (which may even include content guidelines).
Business writing is a collaboration between writer and client. The more detailed your map, the more likely it will be that your copywriter will be able to get to your preferred destination and lead your target audience there, too. If you require any copywriting, SEO work or content strategy, please contact me and I would be delighted to talk with you about your project.
If you need a copywriting brief template to follow, here is a downloadable one.