Picture it: you’re a chef in charge of cooking a very specific meal for a VIP customer. They tell you that they want the meal to be savory, slightly salty, and with their favorite with exquisite spices.
But they don’t tell you what those spices are. And they don’t tell you anything else about the dish. And they don’t tell you about any dietary restrictions or allergies. You don’t even know where to begin.
But, you go ahead and try to create this mystery dish anyway, using the little information that you have.
Without a doubt, they don’t like it and they send it back, and you’re left wondering why they didn’t give you any further guidance.
That’s what it’s like writing without a copywriting brief.
Clients throwing work at you is great. Clients throwing work at you without any kind of guidelines or instructions is one of the most stressful experiences you can have as a copywriter (and the sign of a red-flag client!).
A copywriting brief isn’t just a nice-to-have. It’s mandatory. Even if your clients brain dump their ideas into a Google doc and send it to you, there’s a pretty good chance information is going to be missing, And that information, without fail, will be the information that you actually need to complete the project.
Copywriting briefs are different from other creative briefs, and even different from content writing briefs. Although briefs of any type will provide the same general information, the type of brief you need for a copy project is highly specific.
So, What is a Copywriting Brief and Why Do You Need One?
A copywriting brief is a document that serves as a roadmap for the copywriter. A brief includes essential information that helps writers align their writing with the project’s objectives, as well as how to write in the right tone, voice, and style.
A detailed brief provides every bit of information the writer needs to create the copy. Without it, objectives aren’t met, time is wasted, and the end result is a final project that is far less powerful.
A brief is the launchpad for any copywriting project. And you should require your clients to fill out for every single project.
What Goes in a Copywriting Brief?
What goes in your copywriting brief will largely depend on the project, but this is the bare minimum you should request from your clients when starting a project.
The first thing you need in a copywriting brief is the overview of the project. A good brief will include:
- A general description of the deliverable. Is it an ad? An email? Something else?
- The context of the project (for example, where it will be used, such as social media, print, or website) And are there any formatting guidelines or technical specifications?
- The intended impact of the project. Is the purpose of the project to generate email sign ups? Sales? General brand awareness?
Copy is never one-size fits all. When you’re hired to write copy, it needs to be as aligned with the brand as possible. A copywriting brief should:
- Provide information of the company and its products or services
- Detail the company’s history, mission, and values.
- Discuss the company’s unique value proposition
- Include Brand guidelines such as brand voice documents, and terminology preferences.
- Share any existing marketing materials or copy from competitors for reference.
Even better if you have examples or references to illustrate what they’re going for.
One reason it’s always SUPER important to have a copywriting brief is that your vision for the project might be vastly different from the vision of the company. A brief should clearly (let’s reiterate: CLEARLY) define goals the copy should achieve.
It’s important that these goals are realistic and that the expectations of the copy are only part of the overall strategy. For example, the overarching goal of the project may be to increase sales page conversions by 20%, but if your client is solely relying on copy for that increase, that’s not realistic. You probably won’t have control over their design, SEO, content marketing, or ad spend–all of which contribute to web traffic and sales.
You can’t write effective copy if you don’t know who it’s for. A copywriting brief should go beyond basic demographic information and delve into the psychographics. What are the audience’s pain points, motivations, desires, and challenges?
The more insight into their behaviors, preferences, and decision-making processes, the better.
Depending on the scope of the project and your own skill set, this might be information you collect during the research process, but more established brands tend to have this information ready to go.
One of the most important components of a brief for a copy project are the core messages. What, specifically, does the copy need to convey? This ties back into the brand’s unique value propositions and benefits, or features that differentiate the product or service.
Here is where any specific calls-to-action or key points that should be emphasized should be defined.
Part of effective copywriting is identifying any gaps or opportunities to differentiate from the competition. Your copywriting brief should include a list of key competitors in the industry, and what the client likes or dislikes about their selling points or marketing strategies.
Identify the main competitors in the industry.
Timeline and Budget
Your copywriting brief should set clear deadlines for each stage of the project, including the delivery date for the final copy. Briefs should also discuss the budget or fee structure for the project, including any payment terms. You can reiterate the payment term from your copywriting contract (and if you don’t have one, here’s your reminder!)
Both timeline and budget should be agreed upon before the project begins.
Revision and Approval Process
Clarify the revision process, including the number of rounds of revisions allowed and again, you can refer to your copywriting contract for this information).
The brief should specify who will provide feedback and how it will be collected. Outline the final approval process, including who has the authority to sign off on the copy.
Briefs may seem time consuming, but it’s definitely not as much time as you’d waste going back and forth asking for information and revising a copy because you DIDN’T have a brief.
Copywriting Briefs: Every Project, Every Time
Make this one of your non-negotiables: Copywriting briefs are required for every single client, and every single project. If your client doesn’t have a brief template to send you, it’s super easy to create your own, leaving a space for all of the information above.
With copywriting projects, time is money for everyone involved. Investing time into creating a solid brief means a better ROI for everyone.