Monday 7 September 2009

14 questions you need to ask when taking a copy brief

It’s the most important part of any copywriting job you take on.

If you get a great brief, there’s no excuse for not doing a great job. If you get a rubbish brief or no brief at all, you’re up against it. You’ll have to use every ounce of your experience and advertising nous to produce a professional finished result.

I’ve taken hundreds of briefs in my time and I’ve found that they usually fall into three categories.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get a full written brief that includes absolutely everything you need to know. Brilliant - you can get going straight away.

Or you’ll get a sketchy brief. Or you’ll get no brief at all, or it will consist of someone talking at you for half an hour while you frantically scribble down some notes. The result: three or four pages of scrawl that you have to decipher when you sit down to start the job.

With scenarios two and three, you’ll have to flesh out the ‘brief’ or even write your own by doing research, and throwing in your own insights and gut feeling for what’s required.

Frustrating and time-consuming, and all too often, the client isn’t prepared to pay for this.

In short, if you get a bad brief, it will be a case of **** in, **** out and guess who’ll get the blame for that.

This is why it’s so important to get the best brief you possibly can.

This checklist gives you 14 questions that you need to ask when you start every single job.

Ask your client all of these questions and write down the answers. Because it’s amazing how often you begin work on a new project and find that there’s some essential piece of information that they haven’t give you, or you haven’t asked for.

  1. What’s the objective? Do they want to beat the control by X percent? Generate one-step sales or qualified leads? Strengthen relationships? Introduce a new product? Increase average order size? Direct traffic to their website? Test media, offers or other DM elements?
  1. What’s the brand personality? Is it upbeat and innovative or classic and conservative? Is it straight and established or quirky and left-field? Is there an established copy voice, tone and vocabulary? If so, you need to have copies of these.
  1. Who’s the audience? Is it customers or prospects? What is their average age, household income, educational background, likes and dislikes? You need to have a clear image in your mind of one of these individuals, rather than a mass of nameless, faceless people.
  1. What’s the product or service? You need the features and corresponding benefits. Are there are truly unique features and benefits? Price? Is it new? Improved? A best-seller? Back by popular demand? Are there any competitive advantages and disadvantages?
  1. What’s the offer? This is what generates response, so you need to understand all the elements of the offer and why they are included - discounts, deadlines, guarantees, premiums, other incentives, delivery and payment options.
  1. What are the top three buying objections? Ask why people don’t buy this product or service. You need to deal with these objections - either directly or indirectly.
  1. What’s the call to action? Do they want people to respond by phone, mail, email, online, clickthrough to a website, in-store or at an event? You also need to find out what will happen after a prospect raises his or her hand as a qualified lead.
  1. What’s the format? For space advertising, is it a full or half-page ad, front cover, back cover or ROP? For DM, is it a postcard, solo pack, self-mailer, box, tube or other format? For email, is it text or HTML? Does it link to an existing web page or is a new landing page required?
  1. What’s the media? DM lists, email lists, TV, radio, space advertising, online.
  1. What are they testing? Copy? Creative? Formats? Lists? List segments? Offers? Timing? Other DM elements?
  1. Is any other background info available? Interviews with customers, salespeople, customer service staff, product managers and developers? Are company brochures, newsletters or annual reports available? Get as much information as you possibly can, because you never know where you’re going to find a real nugget you can use. And it could even form the basis of your whole campaign or creative approach.
  1. Can I try the product? Ask for a product sample. Go onto the company’s website. You need to try what you are writing about because it gives you first-hand experience of the product or service’s benefits – or otherwise.
  1. What am I trying to beat? Ask for a sample of the control pack, email or space ad you’re trying to beat. It will show you what you’re up against and stop you repeating what they’re already doing, which is a waste of your time and the client’s money.
  1. What’s the budget? Perhaps most important of all, how much is the client going to pay you to do this job? If it’s enough, fine. If it’s not, then either ask for more, which you might not get. Or make it clear to the client what you can do for the budget available. This avoids misundertandings further down the line, particularly when it comes to paying your invoice. 

 And finally, good luck and happy writing!




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