Both of them – as senior professionals – talk about the briefing process, even taking the mick out of things that sometimes crop up.
In fact, it was a tweet from one of them – about a client listing six things under ‘what’s the one key message you want to get across?’ – that got me thinking about this post.
I’m sure it’s a post that’s been written by many others, in their own way, but I’m writing it again on the off-chance some people haven’t read this information before, or I say something that wasn’t mentioned in those other posts.
It’s a post about the briefing process, why it’s important, and which information ‘the perfect brief’ should contain.
The briefing process (or just ‘the brief’) is where the client – whether working with an in-house copywriter/marketing team, a freelancer/contractor, or an agency – sets out what their project is all about, why they want it done, who it’s aimed at, and what the ultimate objective is – the thing that would allow this project/campaign to be considered a success.
While writing a brief can often be time-consuming, feels like ‘a bit of a faff’, and can lead to thoughts such as ‘why can’t the copywriter just get on with it?’… it’s essential.
It protects the client, in the sense of them being able to point to set parameters they gave the copywriter… so that the copywriter can’t just go off on a tangent and do something that wasn’t asked for (or will have to justify it, clearly, if they do).
It also protects the copywriter, as, if asked ‘why did you do/write that?’, they can point to the brief and explain the rationale behind their work.
The other reason it’s important is that it leads to less ‘back n forth’ between client and copywriter: so that you, as the client, don’t need to be bothered with extra phone calls / emails asking questions about points that aren’t quite clear.
A good brief should also lead to fewer edits i.e first draft will be much closer to expected final draft.
So, overall, the brief – if clear – saves you, the client, time… and gets the job done quicker.
So, what does the perfect brief look like? What information does it need to contain to allow the copywriter (and, subsequently, anyone else involved in the creative process) to crack on with the work?
Well, I can only speak in the generic sense, but – at base level – the perfect brief should set out:
A project owner:
The one person to contact if there are any queries, and the ultimate decision maker when it comes to signing off the final piece.
Three different people cannot be the decision maker – it has to be one person with final say, otherwise the whole process can get a little messy and lead to unnecessary edits.
This doesn’t necessarily need to be relayed to a freelancer/contractor, as they’ll be paid on a daily rate for ‘as long as the job takes’, but an in-house team or an agency will certainly need to know the budget available for a project/campaign. This will tell them which ideas, or which media channels, are ‘out of bounds’, and what’s realistic in terms of a finished piece of work.
A timeline and final deadline:
When does the project need to be ‘live’ / signed off by? What are the key milestones along the way: first draft, first review, second edit, second review, design, production?
Are those milestones realistic? For example, briefing an integrated campaign – involving a DM pack, follow-up emails, Facebook ads, site content etc – on a Monday and expecting first draft ‘by Wednesday’ isn’t really feasible.
A specific target audience:
Who is this work aimed at? Who do you want to respond? Do they work in a certain sector? Are they of a certain social status? Do they fall into a particular age group?
Do they get their news / information / advertising messages through a particular platform – whether ‘traditional’ or ‘new media’?
Defining a target audience tells me (and anyone else working on your campaign/one-off) how they should be spoken to, what would resonate with them, and why they’d be likely to buy your product or service, or why they’d donate, sign up etc.
But it has to be one, specific audience.
‘Women aged 50 – 70’ + ‘men with disposable income’ + ‘both warm and cold prospects’ is not a target audience: that’s just ‘everyone’.
It’d be nigh on impossible to speak to these three disparate audiences in the same way in one piece of marketing.
Any relevant information on this audience:
Do you have any background research on this audience? Do you already know them quite well?
Or, do you have any links through which I can find out more about this audience: even the social media platforms / forums they discuss things on?
One campaign/ad = One message:
What one thing do you want to say to your audience (about your product / service / event)? What is it that’s absolutely essential for this campaign/ad to say?
You cannot say six different things in the same campaign / ad: no person will pick up on all six messages… they can’t be bothered, or they’ll just be confused.
Think about it: If you ordered a starter, main course, and pudding at a restaurant, you’d be baffled if prawn cocktail, roast beef and spuds, and profiteroles all arrived on the same plate in one go.
Which channel/channels do you want your campaign to run across, and why?
Is it a one-off press ad? Is it a Facebook ad campaign? Is it a series of radio ads/scripts? Is it outdoor ads? … why that particular medium?
Also, if it’s e.g a press ad or radio ads, which title(s) or station(s)… so that the tone of what’s written fits in with them: the tone for Kiss FM is very different from Classic FM, so the copy would have to be written with that in mind.
Is it an integrated campaign across multiple channels? Which ones? Why?
If working in a medium with finite space, how big is this space?
For example, if creating press ads, are they half page or full page? If it’s radio ads, is it a 30-second slot? If it’s outdoor ads, are they 48-sheets or bus stop/6-sheet ads?
If the campaign is to run online, where will it run? Banner ads have finite space, Twitter has a character limit, Facebook allows for slightly more written content.
All of this will make a huge difference to the amount of copy that can actually be written within that space… particularly if logos, branding, or Ts and Cs have to be taken into account.
In fact, in some cases, it’s not a bad idea to give a word count, even if that feels a bit ‘old school’ – especially for written content.
Tone of voice:
I (or any other copywriter/content writer) will need your tone of voice guidelines before I start (unless you don’t have any, or you don’t have a particularly strong tone), otherwise I’ll just end up writing as ‘me’, rather than your company/organisation.
Any visual cues?
Do you already have images you’ve purchased, or images from a shoot, you’re going to work with? Do you already have a look and feel for the work – a certain font you’re using, a particular layout, or a slide deck with samples? This will inform what / how I write.
Pre-existing material – ‘definites’:
If you have an existing strapline that I have to use, or specific lines that I have to use, then I need to know right from the off… rather than squeezing them in later.
Alongside the one thing the campaign has to say, what one action does it need to persuade your audience to do?
Sign up? Volunteer? Buy? Click? Call? Donate? Find out more? Tell others about ‘X’ (awareness raising)?
Are there any essential Ts and Cs or legal and compliance info that the copywriter has to know, or anything which has to be squeezed in… it’ll take a lot longer to do this at a later stage.
What I – as the copywriter – have to understand, is that not every client will instinctively know what I / an in-house team / an agency need. You, the client, may well think you’ve passed me everything relevant to the job, and may only realise I need other information when I ask certain questions. That’s because marketing is my area of expertise (and consequently, I’ll have an idea of what I need to complete a job), not yours… in the same way your area of expertise isn’t mine.
But, if you get most of the info above into a brief, I guarantee that the copywriter – or whoever, in marketing, is working on your project – is more likely to just crack on with the job, and they’ll ask fewer questions along the way – leaving you in (relative) peace, and resulting in a much better final draft.