Next time you want to see a look of horror wash across a person’s face, simply find your nearest writer, drop some half-finished copy in front of them and say: “Can you just… jazz it up a bit?”
Sit back and watch their expression. Then run away before they beat you over the head with a keyboard.
Why so cross? Well, the “can-you-jazz-it-up” brief is the worst kind because it entirely hands over strategic responsibility and thinking to the writer.
Don’t misunderstand; writers need to do their share of the heavy lifting. But giving a brief of such ambiguity just begs misunderstanding, misinterpretation and consequently hours of extra work for everyone involved.
It’s the same for any moment when an idea is handed over from the planner to the doer – the transference between skills. It’s a crucial time.
Done right and it’s like presenting the materials for a fabulous creation complete with tools and a clear manual.
Done wrong and it’s more like a DIY wardrobe with the instructions in Japanese and half the bits missing. And on fire.
So with that in mind, here are nine top tips to dropping off the perfect brief to get you the perfect result.
1/ Audience. Who are the target readers? A writer needs to identify what level of understanding and interest they’re pitching the copy at. As with most of these tips, it’s key to knowing something as basic as what words to choose.
2/ Call to action. As well as knowing who your audience is, the writer needs to know what you want them to be inspired to do after reading the copy. Do they simply need to understand something, act on it, be provoked, share, laugh, cry or all of the above?
3/ Word count. For something so fundamental it often gets overlooked, but the words or space you have available is crucial. It sets boundaries to selecting the right information, style and vocabulary. It also saves going back again to stretch or shrink the copy.
4/ Information. When it’s packed full of relevant information, copy can be engaging, full of interest and authentic. Without, it’s flabby, meandering and padded out with words that are nothing but space-fillers.
5/ Backstory. On a similar theme, background information – or the backstory – can be super useful, even if none of it makes the cut into the final copy. It helps navigate the piece by setting a direction, avoiding sensitive issues and spotlighting strong themes.
6/ Tone. It’s not always easy to find the right words to convey how you want copy to read but there are some useful indicators: chatty, formal, newsy, inspiring, corporate, informative, technical, light-hearted, consumer, and so on. Knowing the audience will help, but an indication of tone is always helpful.
7/ Quotes and names. They say names sell newspapers – and it’s a lesson worth taking into other types of copy. Names and quotes add colour and contrast to writing, but they’re also very personal, so be clear about what themes you want a quote to include and who should say it.
8/ Specifics. When engaging copy is interwoven with specific messages and facts, it can be incredibly persuasive. But that power is drained if the writing has to be picked apart when a vague brief doesn’t contain the right information and it has to be inserted later.
9/ Deadline. Knowing accurately when a job need to be done means a writer can devote the appropriate amount of time without ending up with a rushed job. “ASAP” is not a deadline. It’s a cop-out.