The 3 things every freelance copywriter needs from an agency brief

in Top copywriting tips

I’m not going to patronise you by recapping the essential components of a good brief — you haven’t built an agency without knowing what they are.

But when you’re briefing a freelance copywriter (as opposed to your in-house copywriters) there are three things you might not be telling them.

They aren’t essential elements of the brief but are useful pieces of information that bring a brief to life. They are pieces of information that, in my experience, increase the likelihood of a freelance copywriter submitting a piece that goes beyond good territory into great territory.

Why? Because they’re the pieces of information that give an insight into the human element.

The interesting thing is that you probably pass on all three of these things when you’re working with your in-house copywriting support but you’re much less likely to when you’re outsourcing. It’s because they’re the bits of gossip that bring a project to life when you’re chatting about it but you might not think to mention when you’re putting together a formal brief.

I don’t mean the company, that goes without saying. I mean the person you’re dealing with in the company. What’s their position in the company and where do they sit in terms of authority to sign the project off? How much experience do they have in commissioning projects such as this one? What are they like as a person? Do you enjoy their company?

You might think this is a bit gossipy — and you’d be right.

Nevertheless, these are all really useful insights to have. Why? Because while copywriting is often a solitary occupation, it’s also an intensely human one. When we’re dealing directly with a client, we form a one-to-one relationship with them and get an innate understanding of the approach we need to take and what they will and won’t like. When we’re working at one remove, as we are in an agency setting, we don’t get these insights. The risk is that the human element is lost and some of the soul of the copy goes at the same time.

Now you might thinking that covering what the company is like goes without saying. And you’d be right — I said it myself above. Sector, size, products, services. They’ll all be outlined in the brief. The chances are there’ll be lots of information on the website and in any supporting literature you’re sending too.

But this is all the public face stuff. The stuff the company wants you to see.

What your copywriter wants to know is what’s the company’s really like. Is it old-fashioned? Is it dynamic? Is it growing? Is it trying to protect its market share? How does it see itself? How does its market see it?

Why? For the same reasons above. This is information that creates a rounded portrait of your client. It helps us see them as you see them. And it helps us see them as they see themselves.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve looked at the words I’ve written when they’re in their final context and felt a sense of disappointment. It’s always when I’ve only seen the design once, if at all. I’ve written something I was pleased with when I submitted it but when it’s been put into the design context I know I could have done something that would have fitted so much better. You might not think it. The client might not think it. But I do.

Copywriters would love to think that their words operate in a vacuum. But they know they don’t. In which case, they want the next best thing. To know that their words are working in harmony with the design. To be able to tweak a couple of sentences so they fit into the space better. To be able to rework a couple of sections so they work better with the really strong design concept. To be able to finesse something so it really is the best it can be. To be able to say: “Yep, that looks great, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

It’s about working as a creative team to deliver the best possible result.

And at the end of the day, that’s all we both want.

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