If I get an agency to write my copy, I’ll free up time for the million other jobs on my list, right?

Wrong.

Business owners often start working with writers, designers and developers in the belief that outsourcing their work to a professional will take a load off their plate. The reality is less sweet. Without putting time into the relationship, at some point, every business is likely to be frustrated or disappointed with the work produced by an external supplier.

This said, there are ways to make a creative partnership happier and more efficient. Briefing your creative freelancer or agency is the most important of all.

Here’s how to brief a copywriter the right way.

Why bother?

Because it’s impossible to score when the goalposts don’t exist,

A creative brief is the solid ground great work is built on. It sets your writer’s direction and their end target. It provides a reference point to prevent repetitive conversations about project details. And if the end result still doesn’t satisfy both parties, it provides clarity on which party is responsible for making amends.

Think of your brief as your contract for creativity.

What should your brief to a copywriter include?

In short, your brief should provide firm guidelines for success, including:

  • Deliverables. What’s your project word count? How many pages are required? Where will the copy be used? Be specific: these details will form the basis of your copywriter’s plan of action.
  • Project goals and KPIs. Your copywriter needs to know where their copy will be published and its purpose. What are the actions the copy must encourage readers to take? Should they download an ebook or follow an email link? Pick up the phone or follow you on Twitter? This is your yardstick for success. Without it, your copywriter will struggle to produce something effective.
  • Notes on style. Outline your brand tone of voice and provide links to any materials which inspired your brief, or which are relevant to the project.
  • Relevant documents. Provide any documents your copywriter is likely to need for the project – including your brand book and – where relevant – a map of your website.
  • A wireframe. For complex projects involving multiple web pages with multiple blocks of copy, a wireframe is indispensable. These are pages outlining the sections of text on each, indicating where copy should be placed relative to images and how many words are needed in each section.
  • Deadlines, responsibilities and format. Outline when you need the copy to be completed – including uploading to a CMS or sending to a designer, if this is part of your writer’s role. State who the copywriter’s point of contact for the project should be, and provide their contact details. Finally, be clear about the format in which you expect to receive your copy. It’s no good for your writer to deliver their work as a Google Doc if this crashes your team’s computers.
  • Dos and Don’ts. Finally, minor details can derail projects and cause frustration for both client and creative – but often these details aren’t included in the brief. Has your research thrown up any interesting, surprising conclusions about your customers’ sensibilities your copywriter should be aware of? Are there any words that are off-limits for your brand? For example, writing ad copy for a well-known raincoat manufacturer, I was told not to mention dog-walking under any circumstance because this jarred against customers’ perception of their fitness and appetite for the outdoors. So I didn’t. Even though it would have made the job easier.

When and how should you set yours?

An effective brief will have buy-in from both client and creative. Create your brief before you engage your writer, then share it with them and discuss the document. A good copywriter will inevitably have suggestions about how to improve the brief and questions they need answered before they get working.

Depending on the complexity of your project, your briefing process may include additional steps around messaging. For websites, whitepapers and other lengthy deliverables, it’s worth working through each block of copy in the wireframe to agree the headline and sub-messages to be included – for example, each paragraph of a website’s ‘About us’ page. Planning will save time and confusion later on in the writing process.

Setting a clear, concise brief provides your copywriter with the materials they need, so they can provide the goods you need.

Callum Dunbar is Head of Copy at Future Content. Crafting copy and content for almost a decade, he has worked with international FMCG giants, technology startups and boutique hospitality businesses on website, print, advertising, social media and (almost) every other type of copy. Read his other posts, here.