Know EVERYTHING – the importance of a good brief

Trying to write a piece of copy without any kind of direction is a bit like orienteering without a map: potentially fun but ultimately rather futile, even dangerous. You could end up with something that’s beautifully written but completely misses your original objective.

Before sitting down to write anything, even if it’s for yourself, you need to be in possession of a good brief.

So what makes a good brief? These are some of the question we like to ask our clients:

1. What is the central message that this piece must communicate? What’s the story?

Capturing the central opinion you want to express, argument that you are asserting, or the one message you want readers to take away from the article, will focus the piece on what you need it to say.

2. What’s in it for me?

Why will the story be interesting to the reader? How will they profit from reading your communication? Answer this at the start, and the writer can make sure—by asking this of every sentence they write—that this is conveyed to the reader. So they keep reading.

3. Who is your target audience?

Describe the target audience and their business issues, and you will ensure the writer can tailor the messaging to their specific needs. For example, if the solution is a piece of new software and the audience is made up of business managers, it would be better to talk about the capabilities that the solutions enable, rather than their technical features.

4. What 360° research can you provide?

Convey everything you can about your products/service, your competitors and your target audience. These are the things that are typically left off a brief because they’re the ‘hard to complete’ sections. But they’re so important. For example, competitor information may be hard to come by or no one may yet have assessed its significance but without this as part of your brief it would be easy to wax on about certain features, claiming them as strengths, when in fact, your competitors are better.

5. What tone does the deliverable need to take?

What tone/approach will your target audience respond to best? For example, when marketing to senior executives, it may be best to take a consultative role to help, not sell—at least not overtly—and communicate with your prospects on a peer level, empathising with their challenges.

Think about style in relation to:

    • Formal vs. informal/conversational (The most obvious marker(s) of this being whether to use 1st, 2nd or 3rd person when talking about your organisation and your clients)


    • Educational vs. ‘salesy’


    • Neutral vs. ‘opinionated’ (taking a stance)


    • ‘Academic’ vs. ‘straight-talking’ language


  • Using, using with explanation or avoiding technical jargon

Remember, one of the most important things about copywriting is about being able to see beyond the words, to the message being delivered. And this ability all starts with getting a good brief.

Finding the ideal match

Finding the right agency is a lot like online dating. First off, expressing who you are and what you are looking for in a couple of hundred words isn’t easy. 5’8” and slightly chubby is simple enough, but are you adventurous? I’m more adventurous than Auntie Margaret, but not nearly as daring as Wild Sarah, so what do I put? Likewise, do you want an agency that pushes your creative or technological boundaries? And just like dating you might have to make compromises; the agency that produces the best visuals might not be very good at the logistics – of course two agencies are more likely to agree to a three-way relationship. But no matter how good a relationship looks on paper, how many boxes a potential partner ticks, there’s always that elusive “chemistry”. You can work at building rapport, but it will never be as good as those rare occasions when you meet somebody who is on the same wavelength.

So how do you wade through all the profiles out there and find the right agency for you? It’s fairly traditional to get a handful of agencies to pitch for a specific project. But is that really the best way? That approach is akin to speed dating, gambling everything on just a few minutes. And preparing for a pitch is a challenging and expensive process – for both the client and the suitors. Which is why I was interested to read about how Santander is approaching finding a new agency:

What do you think of this approach? Do you have any advice or horror stories about finding an agency that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you.

Or if you’d simply like to find out more about us, check out our profile.