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How to brief a copywriter (part 1)

If you’re briefing a copywriter, one of the most important things they need to know is:

Who is your audience?

Are we talking to existing customers? Or prospects? Or both?

Or is this for an internal audience – such as staff or shareholders?

If it’s going to new prospects, will they be familiar with the company? What about the product or service? Will they be familiar with the basic offer?

A copywriter needs to be able to visualise the person they are speaking to. They need to know who they are – not just through some dumb marketing stereo-typing along the lines of ‘C2s’ or ’empty-nesters.’

A copywriter needs to know who they really are – what they are like, how they talk, what they care about. Ideally, the copywriter needs to be able to draw on personal experiences and friendships – so that they can picture someone they genuinely do know who might fit the audience profile.

That way, the copywriter really can find the right tone of voice.

This is not a precise science. Your audience is likely to be wide and varied. Even if the audience is very precise, these people are still individuals and there is no magic bullet when it comes to the right tone of voice.

But an experienced copywriter will have an idea of how to write, the kinds of language and levels of familiarity and slang to use, depending on the nature of the audience.

Often clients forget to tell copywriters the most basic essentials in a brief. If so, it’s up to the copywriter to make they know the audience as clearly as possible before getting too far into the project.

This really can be as basic as finding out if the communication is aimed at customers or an internal audience such as staff or shareholders. If it’s aimed at customers, are they prospects or have they bought before?

In my experience, a lot of marketing departments and agencies are too quick to fall back on stereo-typing of customers and prospects, lumping them into generalisations. A copywriter needs to see beyond these. Because the generalisations are nearly always insulting, arrogant and immature.

A copywriter can’t afford to be these things. He has to talk to people in a language with which they are comfortable. This means not talking down to them but treating them with respect.

It’s not generalisations about their habits and lifestyles that you need. It’s solid information about what they already know; whether they are likely to be familiar with the company or product; whether or not they already source a similar product from a rival. Or will they have heard bad reports about the product from another source? Or good reports?

If you’re briefing a copywriter and you neglect to tell them these things, then you won’t get the copy you really want (although you possibly will get the copy you deserve).

And if you are a copywriter or aspiring copywriter, then you had better make sure you know these things before you start writing.

A lot of what makes a copywriter effective is the ability to visualise the person you are writing for, to such an extent that it becomes second nature.

Sometimes seeing copy produced by less experienced writers (for example clients) is a sharp reminder that other people either don’t know how to do this or can’t. That’s possibly one reason why they’re not professional writers.

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  • Connie January 11, 2010, 8:55 pm

    great tips. so many of us forget that this is essential in this business world.