Article by Jess Gately
Image from Canva Free Stock Images
In our last post, we discussed pitching for those of you who are looking at article writing but this post is more useful for those of you who are looking at copywriting, real estate writing, advertising, social media management or other such roles. Jobs like these often involve an overlap between writing and marketing and as such there are many things to look out for. If you’re not prepared, what you thought might be a simple project could quickly deteriorate into endless back-and-forths and unhappy clients.
The purpose of a creative brief is to ensure you have all the necessary information required to deliver the job on time and to the client’s expectation. A creative brief is a template or series of questions to ask your client to ensure you understand exactly what they need and want. In some cases, you may even prompt your client to think of things they haven’t considered before. These questions are generally best asked in an initial meeting or phone call so that you can pick up on your client’s cues and probe further if need be.
Keep in mind that the below questions are a guide and not all questions may apply to all clients. Likewise, some questions may already have been answered in the job outline when you applied for it and asking certain question in these cases may serve to have the opposite effect—making you look less professional.
A creative brief starts with the basic information like who the client is and their contact details. If it’s a recurring client, you may want to also include a project or job title. The rest of the template can be broken down into four main parts: exact deliverables, brand awareness, product information, and action.
This part is pretty straight forward. It is the nitty gritty of the ‘what’ and ‘when’ and ‘how’. But it’s often the part many new freelancers forget. Being specific about what the client expects to receive can help you to evade those awkward emails that make you seem unprofessional or the last-minute stress if you’re the sort of person to clamber for last-minute deadlines.
- What needs to be made/written/edited etc? An overview of the job.
- When does it need to be done by? (Are there multiple dates for different deliverables?)
- What format do they want the deliverable in? (DOC? JPEG? RAW? XML? CSS?)
- How do they want you to deliver it? (Dropbox? Email? Direct to a staging area?)
This section is really important because it’s all about the style and the target market of the brand and it is the place where inexperience is most likely to show. For businesses, some of the questions here may also be things they haven’t thought of themselves and it forces them to really consider how they want to portray themselves and to whom.
- What 3-4 words describe the voice of this particular piece (friendly, classy, professional, warm, etc)? What is the tone, voice or personality of the brand/product?
- Who is the target market for this writing? Your client needs to be very specific about this and if there’s more than one target market then they need to rank them in terms of importance.*
- What media considerations need to be made? Where are people going to encounter this piece and how does the writing need to reflect that medium?
- Are there any mandatory requirements for the piece (trademarks, logos, disclaimers)?
- Does the piece have any calendar themes that need to be incorporated or considered (season, holiday, other major events)?
- What can’t you say or mention?
For your own research, it may also be worth looking up who the competitors are in the market and what they are doing. You’ll probably want to avoid anything that makes you seem like you are copying or are too similar to another campaign run by a competitor.
Another question you may want to ask, particularly if your client is just starting out in their business or if they’re changing their branding, is whether they’ve seen another business doing something similar to what they want to do. You’ll need to make it clear that you can’t just copy their style but it may help to facilitate discussion around what they say they want and what they really want.
*Target markets are often something that inexperienced marketers struggle with. They go too broad and as such, miss opportunities. If the product has a wide appeal, then you need to consider how you would market it differently to the 20-year-old single young woman who likes yoga and rock-climbing versus the 56-year-old married man who likes football and cars. These two examples show the level of detail you need your client to delve into when they discuss their target market.
Now we’re into the nitty gritty of exactly what it is they want you to sell.
- Who is the client? What do they do/sell?
- What are they advertising, or promoting or selling specifically with this job? Why is your work needed?
- What do they want to achieve with this job? What specific and measurable goal are they working towards?
- What are the features and benefits of the service or product you’re writing about? Remember, a feature is something specific about the product or service, the benefit is how that feature improves the life of the customer. Each feature should have its own separate benefit and you should try to list at least 3-4 features and benefits.
- What’s the most important message you want someone reading this piece to leave with?
- Does the product or service have any awards, accolades or testimonials that you can use in the piece?
With the above details, you can now grab your target market’s attention and hopefully convince them of the value of whatever you’re writing about. But all that is useless if they don’t actually do something with the information. The final part of your template is all about what action you want the reader/viewer to take upon seeing this information.
- What do you want the reader/viewer to do (call you, take up an offer, email you, ask for a quote, ask for a meeting, etc.)?
- What can you offer the reader/viewer that will compel them to consider you over a competitor (free report, free audit, free consultation)?
Using the above questions, you and your client should have a comprehensive understanding of exactly what is expected and exactly how the finished product should look. Looking back over these notes is also a handy way to keep yourself on track as you move on with the project and even just asking some of these questions early in the process can help you to look professional and insightful.