Write a Copy Brief for the best results

What exactly is a Copy Brief?

If you’re new to writing briefs, I hope this blog helps to explain the whys and wherefores.

A Copy Brief or Creative Brief uses a Q&A format to help you clearly define and express the creative problem to be solved. Wording varies but the basic questions comprise:

1. Background. (Why are we producing this?)

2. Target audience. (Do they already have a relationship with you? How much do they know about your service/product/ organisation? If there’s more than one audience, please list them as primary, secondary etc.)

3. Who are your competitors and what is their current marketing activity? (Your positioning in your marketplace)

4. What is the single most important point you want to make? (The proposition: only one thought expressed succinctly. Even for a website or brochure, this is essential – what’s the most important point you want your target to remember?)

5. Main features and benefits? (e.g. Feature: in this investment, your money will only be invested in ethical funds.  Benefit: you’ll have peace of mind as your money will work for good. For brochures and websites, please attach additional info as relevant).

6. Tone of voice? (Design is your body language to your target audience; copy represents your ‘voice’. You need to be ‘speak’ in a way that is true, relevant and interesting to your target audience. Please attach your brand guidelines to be followed. If you’re unsure about your brand language, please ask about my tone of voice consultancy).

7. What do you want your target to believe? (Please write this from the target’s viewpoint. For example: I feel reassured that this investment will give me the opportunity I’m looking for.)

8. What, if any, action do you want your target to take as a result of reading the copy? (For example, phone 0800 123 4567 and ask for an application pack.)


Take the time you need to produce a brief you feel is right. If you find it difficult, you may need some help with brand language consultancy. Brand language covers both tone of voice and overarching stories and messages, culminating in a brand promise, which is bigger than a USP. More about that in another blog.

Why is a Copy Brief so important? 

Six reasons why it’s better to produce a written copy brief:

  1. It’s just like a doctor’s diagnosis and prescription. If the problem hasn’t been accurately diagnosed, then the creative ‘remedy’ can’t be effective. The questions prompt you to think of every nuance.
  2. I need to know all the answers anyway – doing it upfront ensures you’ve had a chance to think it all through. 
  3. I can see any blind spots in your thinking, so we can discuss and resolve them. 
  4. Critically, I can constantly refer to your brief while I am writing, ensuring your copy is ‘on brief’ (as we say in the industry). 
  5. A decent brief reduces my time and so costs you less. If you want to give me a verbal brief, I still need to go through these thought processes and find out all this information. 
  6. 10 out of 10 clients who are new to commissioning copy say that writing the copy brief has resulted in better work, because it prompts them to consider elements they hadn’t looked at before. This then feeds into the copy I create for them, making it more effective.  

Why don’t all freelance writers ask for a Copy Brief? 

To be frank, not all freelance writers have a copywriting background – and although they may write content for you they may not know how to treat you as a brand. More about that in another blog. That’s why any freelance copywriter who is ex-agency knows that a brief is the best way to approach a project. I respect the fact that you’re spending money. Your copy is a big investment. It needs to be right. And I really care about getting it right for you.

In an advertising or direct marketing agency, a copy brief or creative brief is signed off by the client, the Account Director and Creative Director i.e. we all agree on the creative problem to be solved. When I worked as a Head of Copy and Creative Director before turning freelance, I’d frequently need to push into some aspect of a brief that didn’t quite make sense or revealed wonky thinking, and as a result the brief would be re-focused before it was briefed into the creative team. Resolving all the issues upfront before work starts means the resulting creative work is more effective.

What if I still just want to give you a verbal brief?

It’s very common for a design consultancy, for example, to just give me a verbal brief. That’s much more straightforward than a direct client not providing a written brief. It’s because the designer has already received an internal design brief and so has been through these thought processes with the client. I speak the same language as designers so it’s easy for us to communicate. And if I spot anything that doesn’t quite make sense or hasn’t been considered, either the designer can check with their client, or I can liaise directly, with permission.

If you’re a client and you just want to give me a verbal brief, I’m happy to pick up the ball and run with it. Please be aware that it will take more time as I’ll be doing your work for you – so it will cost you more. In these circumstances, it’s also more likely that we’d need to run to another draft of copy, as invariably there will be facets that the client hasn’t considered or communicated. This will also increase the cost a little. I’m very flexible and supportive with clients – and my best ongoing clients don’t expect me to pick up their slack for free.

Ultimately, these are the ways that my 20 years of award-winning copywriting experience can help you:

  1. I can dovetail into your stage and process.
  2. I spot problems and solve them.
  3. I can sharpen your thinking.
  4. I’m not afraid to speak the truth so we can achieve a better result.
  5. I polish your gems and spot others that you may not have seen.
  6. I connect the dots in ways you hadn’t anticipated to create stronger copy.
  7. Your final copy will connect with your customer and evoke the right feelings.

I hope this helps to illuminate the process to this stage – please get in touch with any questions.




By Liz Holt