The more a writer knows about you, the better, and that goes for copywriters within your own organisation, freelancers, or your external agency. If you’re briefing a piece of content, I strongly believe that taking the time to have a real conversation – either in person or by phone – will produce a far more effective end result than actioning this via email or a project management tool, as these discussions take you off in different tangents, uncovering information you might not have thought to share but could make all the difference to your copy.
Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to also have your brief documented. This gives the copywriter something to refer back to, as it’s unlikely they’ll remember every detail from your conversation, but more importantly, it’s also useful for others reviewing and editing this content. It provides context for those who might not have been involved from the beginning, it gives insight into why certain language, tone or structural decisions have been made, and it’s simply another pair of informed eyes to ensure the piece fits the purpose.
Your content brief may differ slightly depending on its format, whether you’ve asked for website copy, a blog, press release or thought leadership article, but any good content brief should always cover the following aspects, regardless of how it’s being used:
- Brand guidelines – any in-house rules or preferences regarding tone, style or sentence structure should be specified from the outset. If you have a separate brand or editorial guidelines document, include a link to it at the top. Even if you’re working with someone already familiar with these, it doesn’t hurt to keep them front of mind to ensure they get followed.
- What you’re trying to achieve – possibly the most important part of your brief. Give your writer a steer on what success would look like for this particular piece of content; do you want to educate your audience on a new product, change their opinion on a misconception? What actions are you hoping readers will take after digesting your copy? It can be useful to share any overarching aims from the wider project it’s included within, as well as any specific KPIs to bear in mind, such as opens, CTR or page views.
- Target audience and personas – you simply can’t write effective copy if you don’t know who you’re writing for. Good content speaks directly to your audience, it understands their wants, needs and challenges, and is aware of their current knowledge level. Even if your copywriter is familiar with your general target audience, it’s worth considering the audience for this particular piece. Who are they, what do they care about, what stage of the buying cycle are they at?
- Why you – give as much information as you can on why your business is an authority on this subject. Share everything from your experience and results, to case studies, to your organisation’s stance on related topics. Include your USPs, consider what makes you different from your competitors, and explain where you fit in the market.
- Share examples – it’s a good idea to share a few examples of your brand’s content that you feel has performed particularly well, or best reflects your preferences. Similarly, including links to articles or web copy from competitors can be useful for copywriters, both for content you particularly like or dislike, as both help to provide direction.
- Keyword research – even if you have a central list of keywords to target, or if your agency or copywriter will be conducting keyword research themselves, it makes sense to document this within the brief to avoid keyword cannibalisation. This is also a good space to map out any internal linking plans or anchor text, to ensure your content fits in with your wider SEO strategy.
Assume nothing. Whether you’re outsourcing or working with different departments internally, information can fall through the cracks, writers aren’t always involved in projects at the initial stages and can miss important early information, so share everything you know; your agency or writer will know what to filter out. It’s also a good idea to try and keep to the same format each time, so all parties can get used to what information to include and where to look for it.