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How to Brief a Copywriter

man writing in a notebookCopywriters are smart people (what do you mean, I’m biased?).

They’re so smart, they can listen to your vague directions and turn them into magic – but they do need those directions as a starting point for writing great copy.

Here’s my outline of a brief you can give any copywriter and expect good results.

1. What do you need a copywriter for?

Something made you decide you needed to hire a copywriter. Are you launching a new product? Have you started a podcast? Is your e-commerce website in dire need of a refresh?

A one-liner on what you’re selling is all you need here – the rest will come from a proper chat with the copywriter – but it might help to think of it as a problem you need solved.

Examples of problems you need solved by copy:

  • Our website isn’t getting very much traffic and we need help
  • People tend to only buy from us once and we’d like to encourage them to buy again
  • We’ve just finished our new range of body scrubs and we need to let the world know!
  • Not many people know we service hot tubs as well as pools
  • We get a gazillion phone calls a day asking for clarification on our services

2. Who is your copy aimed at?

Your audience is the most important, and first, consideration in your brief. You may not have done much rummaging around in your audience’s heads but you do know who they are and a little bit about them.

This will inform everything your copywriter does – the tone, length, register and a million other decisions will be guided by who you identify as the reader of this copy.

Examples of audiences:

  • We mainly deal with small plumbing suppliers who prefer to stick with the same wholesaler for a long time. They’re busy people, they usually order the same stock every quarter and they’ve probably done most of their business over the phone, traditionally.
  • The cakes we sell are pretty upmarket so you’re looking at people who are buying for an occasion like a wedding or big birthday. We do everything bespoke so we’ll invite them in for a consultation and people really like the extras we do to make it a special experience.
  • Lending is a very sensitive area and things can get personal. We always bear in mind that no one really wants to get a loan – they probably don’t have another option. But then there are the people who are getting a loan for an exciting new project, so that’s an important consideration too.

3. What goals do you want your copy to achieve?

No point having copy with no goal in mind! Having a really clear idea of what you want your copy to achieve means your writer knows how to pitch it – and you know what the work is worth to you. That’s very useful for deciding on what your copywriting budget should be.

Some goals for copy:

  • Increase enquiries or direct sales
  • Promote newsletter signups
  • Increase whitepaper downloads
  • Drive traffic to social media
  • Encourage comments or shares

4. Where will this copy live?

Knowing the medium for your copy is vital to the writer. A marketing email and a print ad talk to the reader in very different ways because they have different goals, which is why it’s so important to know what you want to achieve so you can decide in which medium this copy will work best.

Some copywriters specialise in certain mediums – digital, sales, content and so on – so asking them about their previous work is a good idea but if you like the work they’ve done in other areas, it’s pretty likely they can apply their skills to whichever medium you’re after.

It’s also a myth that you need a copywriter who’s written for your product before, and letting go of that idea will give you a much bigger pool of talented copywriters to choose from.

5. How will you judge whether this copy was successful?

Again, no point paying for copy if it doesn’t help your business. Any writer worth their salt will be happy to review copy after a set period depending on the results you’ve seen (but will obviously expect payment!).

No first go at anything is going to be perfect, so developing the copy based on what you learn is a great way to keep pushing for better results.

Some success metrics for website copy:

  • Your goal (increased newsletter signups, sales, downloads) is being achieved
  • Your time on page has increased as people spend more time consuming content
  • Your bounce rate has decreased because what people are finding is relevant to them
  • Your social shares have increased as people identify with your brand or message
  • Your customer service enquiries have decreased because your service is explained clearly

Some metrics for emails

  • Your open rate has increased because the subject line is effective
  • Your click through rate has increased because the calls to action are strong
  • Your goal (increased sales, content views, enquiries) is being achieved because the email is engaging

6. When do you need this copy delivered?

“Tomorrow” is never what a copywriter wants to hear and if that really is your deadline, expect to pay a bit of a premium. Copywriting takes time, research and revision so try to set out a workable timeline with the copywriter.

Things you need to build into your timeline:

  • A briefing meeting or call
  • Research time for the copywriter
  • Calls for clarification
  • Potential meeting between designer and copywriter
  • A first draft
  • Your review, including anyone who has to sign off the copy
  • A review call with your notes or edits
  • A second draft
  • Second draft review
  • Second draft review call
  • Final version
  • Final review and signoff from stakeholders
  • Signoff confirmation
  • Any design work involved in getting the copy live
  • Any edits arising from the design work
  • Live
  • Pay them!

This is a very high-level, uncomplicated look at how things might go. You need to be prepared for rewrites, stakeholders changing their minds (which is why the brief is so important to get right) or competing with the copywriter’s other clients for their time.

Look at the timings yourself, then agree them with the copywriter. After that, you can start thinking about your copywriting budget. Good luck!

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