You’re hiring a copywriter, not a mind reader

How to brief your writers so you get the goods

10845823806_4cdc9df571_b.jpgWhen you want to get the best from your copywriter, there’s no shortcut to a proper briefing. To do an effective job, your copywriter needs to know all about you and your company; otherwise you’ll be wasting their time – and your money. If you leave them guessing, you won’t get the results you want.

Summarising what you want to into a brief is actually harder than it sounds. So here’s a quick run-down on how to brief your copywriter well.

What your copywriter needs to know

What makes you so special?

First up, tell your writer all about your business. What do you do? Talk about what makes you special, a standout from competitors. Hint – it won’t be your professionalism, that you’re qualified or really experienced. Those are things that should come as standard with anyone in your industry. What can you say that no one else can? It might not be something tangible. It could be about your core philosophies – the underlying beliefs and intentions that drive your business.

What do you need?

Then focus on the job you want done. It might be a website refresh, a product launch or a copy for a specific business opportunity.

Why?

This may seem obvious, but it’s important to tell your copywriter why you’re pursuing this project. Like, what’s the strategic thinking behind it? What do you want to get out of it, in a businesses sense. When your writer has a handle on that you’ll get more value out of them – they’ll be able to challenge your thinking and craft text that more directly delivers on that focus.

What do you want to say?

What are your key messages? What, specifically does the piece need to say. This can be big ideas, but should also be what we call ‘mandatories’ – maybe you definitely want your opening hours in there somewhere, maybe mentioning details of your history, or your qualifications.

And what’s the call to action?

Be clear about how you want your audience to respond to this communication – call, email, buy online? Why should do so?

At this point, it’s time to talk about your audience.

Who are you talking to? Be very specific.

Decide right now who your audience is for this bit of writing. Don’t be too general and try to reach everybody, or your copy could end up generic, bland and even wishy-washy. With a message that has no cut-through, no specific relevance, who would bother to read it?

No, you have to be really specific about your target – age, gender, job, social level, special likes – whatever you can think of to narrow the field. Make this your starting point and then hone in on a single person. I mean REALLY hone in – avoid demographics like ‘mother of three’ or ‘company CEO’. They’re still too general, too faceless. Be brave and pick a single person to represent your audience.

‘Fiona, comfortably married with three children, loves ice cream and holidays at the beach, and dreams of owning her own home some day.’ Add hobbies, appearance, social behaviour, and most importantly, what nice, comfy Fiona feels about your product or brand.

Whatever personality represents your audience, dream it up and write it down ready to tell your copywriter. That way, you’ll get readable copy that talks to someone.

RIP ASAP

It’s a mistake to beat around the bush with a deadline. ‘Whenever’, ‘no rush’ or ‘ASAP’ don’t work. When there’s no deadline, your brief will sink below other projects that do.

Actually, no copywriter worth hiring will be happy with wet deadlines. We love dry, solid deadlines – they’re our friends.

So set a rock solid deadline that works for you, and your happy, deadline-driven copywriter will deliver to it. You might even get it early, because that’s how we roll.

Ask for a tone-of-voice sample

Make sure your copywriter sets the right tone – you’ll want the writing to reflect your business and also connect with ‘Fiona’ or whoever you’ve dreamed up as your audience persona. So before your copywriter really gets into the swing, ask for a sample – a small bit of the job that can set the tone of voice for the rest.

This is specially important for bigger jobs like a website or a substantial brochure. For a website you might ask to check the home page, so you can make changes in the tone if need be. Too formal? Ask your writer to frienderise it. Too chatty? Express your polite dismay and your copywriter will take it on board.

Either way, don’t give the go-ahead for the rest of the job until you’re happy with the tone.

Talk about money before you start

Okay, I know this should come at the beginning, but let’s face it – not many of us like talking about money. It’s cold and crass, and anyway, we’re all friends, right? Yes, well, there’s a practical reason for settling the fee first – you’ll know up front what your campaign or project budget needs to include.

The best thing to do is get the money issue out of the way before you get into any of the fun stuff. Tell your copywriter the length and scope of what you want done (a short ad, a lengthy awards submission, or anything in between), and then ask for a quote. If it fits within your budget, accept it.

That way you can enjoy getting this brilliant writing job started – and finished.

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