When I first started freelancing, I never asked for creative briefs.
Instead, I might spend a few minutes on the phone with the client discussing the topic. On many occasions, I didn’t even do that. The client sent me a working title and that was enough to get me started.
Somehow it worked. I spent a fair amount of time diving into the subject matter, reading everything I could about the client and their business. Then, I delivered draft copy that was reasonably on the mark.
I never considered asking for a creative brief. I’d led PR and marketing teams in my corporate job for decades, and we assigned outside writers projects all the time and rarely provided briefs.
The results? More often misses than hits.
By contrast, creative briefs were common for graphic design projects. I suppose I wasn’t always sold on those results, and for the successes, I gave the brief little credit.
My process was also colored by my training as a journalist. In my short history as a stringer for a local newspaper, assignments usually came with direction no more detailed than: “There’s a zoning meeting tonight. Go cover it.” I learned quickly how to spot the story lead.
The 3/5 Rule for Creative Briefs
Somewhere along my freelancing journey, I started to see the value of having more detail before starting any copywriting project.
That’s led me to develop what I call the 3/5 rule for creative briefs:
- 3 persuasive reasons clients need to hear
- 5 key questions every brief must answer
3 Reasons Clients Should Write a Creative Brief
Even though I’m convinced of the value of a creative brief, not all clients are. But, I understand their resistance. A truly useful creative brief takes some time to write, and many clients are pressed for time.
Fortunately, there are some strong arguments in favor of writing a brief – and one in particular that addresses the concern above.
1. Everyone is on the same page – literally.
As a team of freelance writers, we’re always on the outside looking in – no matter how close we are to our clients or how long we’ve worked for them. There’s a limit to what we can know. After all, we’re usually not in the room when the goals and objectives of campaigns are discussed.
A key benefit of a creative brief is that it erases any assumptions. Our clients can be confident that we’re on the same page as them about purpose, messaging, and reader takeaways.
Our writers can be confident they have all the details and resources they need to draft a strong piece from the start.
With everyone on the same page, the first draft is more likely to be closer to final copy.
2. Briefs don’t have to be long – and bullet points are welcome.
At first, the upfront work on a brief may feel like a waste of time – time that could be spent just writing the piece yourself. Or could it?
The truth is a good creative brief should take less than an hour to write – depending on the complexity of the topic and the content type (e.g., blog, ebook, byline, etc.). Also, it doesn’t have to be neat or grammatically correct. We’re not judgmental. In fact, we have a downloadable template that makes the process super simple.
We encourage you to give each section some thought, but it’s perfectly fine to use bullets, sentence fragments, and links to resources like messaging documents or website copy.
3. It’s a significant time-saver for both client and writer.
As a client, you’ll save significant time overall – with less time spent reviewing, waiting for the writer to revise, and reworking the copy yourself.
A solid creative brief will reduce the number of questions you get overall. The questions you do get will be more sophisticated – and will lead to a better draft, one that reduces the need for you to edit.
With better information from the start, writers are more likely to hit the mark on messages, tone, and writing to the desired audience. In other words, that one hour you spent upfront can save you hours on the backend.
5 Key Questions Your Content Brief MUST Answer
1. Who is the audience?
Knowing the target audience helps us orient the piece correctly.
2. What do you want to achieve with this content and how does it fit within your overall organizational goals and strategies?
It’s helpful for the writer to understand the big picture and how this piece of content fits in. For example, knowing that it sits at the top of the funnel will tell us a lot about the level and type of detail the reader needs.
3. What products and services should be promoted?
We use this information to home in on the right features and benefits.
4. What are the key takeaways? What should the audience think or feel after reading?
These are the key messages you want to get across.
5. What do you want the audience to do after reading? What’s the CTA?
To close the loop, we need to know what you want your readers to do after reading the content.
Are you getting ready to assign a content piece to a freelance writer? Download our content brief template and give it a whirl. And if you have questions, feel free to reach out to us for a “brief” chat.