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How to effectively brief a copywriter (without getting your knickers in a twist)

To a copywriter there is nothing more confidence-deflating and failure-inducing than an unclear brief. A copywriter needs two main elements from their client: facts and ideas. The first is fairly simple but the second element comes from your passion, inspiration and vision for your business.

Briefs (and not the underwear variety on this occasion!) come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are short, others are detailed; some have too much waffle; others are just fluffy and ambiguous. The crucial point though, is that the copywriter is given clear direction and that the brief is accurately defined.

You may think it seems like a daunting project to pay someone who knows almost nothing about your company to successfully write about it. To write convincingly about anything, copywriters need to understand exactly what you do and sell and who your target market is. If you are clear about your business offering, a copywriter will find many different ways to sell it (and if the copywriter is a professional, he or she will know all the right questions to ask you anyway). Nevertheless, it obviously helps if you can think things through for yourself in advance.

In order to help the copywriter get under the skin of your business, you need to think about what I call “The Magic W’s”:

• What is being written?

• Why is it being written?

• Who is your target audience, and who do you want to read it?

• Where will they be reading it?

• How do you want people to feel or respond after reading it?

In other words, you need to think about the objective of the copy; the tone of voice; the length; the format; the key messages; the call to action, and the audience or readership.

It is always a good idea to run the brief by a colleague before you pass it on to the copywriter. If they don't understand it, the chances are that the copywriter won’t either. Try and involve only one other person, two at the most. The more people you involve, the more changes you’ll likely need to make, and changes take time – and subsequently, money.

Once you have decided on a copywriter, you need to agree a cost with them. Copywriters invariably charge a fixed fee, based on how long they expect a job to take, then they may add on some time for amendments and admin. Make sure that the price quoted includes all meetings and travel time, the first draft copy and up to two rounds of iterations (however, if you have nailed the brief first time, this is often not necessary!). If you start adding more elements or changing the brief as the project progresses, you’ll have to pay the copywriter for the extra time, so it’s critical to get the brief right from the outset.

In addition, make sure you agree a timeline for the finished piece of work, so everyone is aware and informed from the start how long they have got for writing, feedback, edits and amendments.

Finally, communicate frequently and openly with your copywriter. Be honest when you’re giving feedback and more importantly, be specific.

So, to help copywriters get to the heart of your message, it is worth investing time at the start of the project by writing a detailed and accurate brief. It will pay dividends in the long run, ensuring that your copywriter delivers exactly what’s required, first time, on time, every time.

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