Content strategy: How (not) to brief a writer

The only way to win at content marketing is for the reader to say, ‘This was written specifically for me.’ – Jamie Turner, CEO of SIXTY Marketing and 60 Second Marketer.

As a strategist, content strategy is your baby. You need to know who you’re creating content for, what these people want to know, and how they want to consume the information. As such, creating an effective content strategy involves doing a lot of buyer persona development, keyword research, planning and creative thinking.

There are loads of resources out there detailing how to go about one of the most fundamental parts of successfully implementing acontent strategy: briefing your writer. To provide your writer with a half-decent brief, you need to know your client, buyer personas, target market and industry inside-out. Unfortunately, so many strategists get this wrong.

Not sure if your briefs are hitting the spot? If any of the below descriptions sound like you, it’s time to up your briefing game.

Here’s how NOT to brief your writer:

  • DON’T give a weak brief.

The briefing document or template you use (or should be using) is there for a reason. You need to take the time to think about what you want each piece of content to achieve and exactly how you’re going to make that happen. Think carefully (and strategically) when filling out your briefing templates.

  • If you’re briefing a blog or piece of web copy, DON’T forget to provide primary and secondary keywords.

If you’re briefing in blogs, web copy and other pieces of content that need to include specific keywords, you need to provide these (obviously!). This is your part of the content strategy, so always ensure the keywords are correct and clearly stated. Also specify the number of times keywords need to appear in the piece of content.

  • DON’T tell your writer that “No one’s going to read it anyway.”

(Yes, I’ve actually heard strategists say this to writers.) Whether you’re briefing in a blog post for a huge client that gets hundreds of thousands of hits every day or a small conversion asset that might only be downloaded by a couple of people, remember that any content you create acts as a representation of your client. Telling your writer that not many people are going to read the piece of content is demotivating and may have a detrimental effect on the quality of the work. Each piece of content your create is equally important, whether it’s web copy written for SEO purposes, a blog post or a product brochure. Never compromise on quality.

  • DON’T expect your writer to understand the buyer personas and the client the way you do.

It’s your job to know your client’s target market inside-out. It’s also your job to share this knowledge with your writer, through discussions and in briefing documents. Always make yourself available to chat about a piece of content with your writer. When appropriate, it can also be helpful to introduce your writer to your client and open the lines of communication between them. Even better, invite your writer tocontent strategy meetings with your client. This will give the writer an invaluable depth of understanding of what you’re trying to achieve through your content marketing strategy.

  • DON’T forget to provide additional resources, links and examples.

Give your writer some additional information, further reading or links to material written by the client’s competitors. Include these in the brief document.

  • DON’T forget to suggest a product tie-in.

You need to have an idea of how a piece of content will tie in with the client’s product, service or offering when briefing the writer. Clearly outline this in your brief.

  • DON’T omit the call-to-action.

This is the most important step. If you don’t know what the call-to-action at the end of the piece of content is, or if you don’t tell you writer what it should be, how will your piece of content achieve its purpose? Remember, every single piece of content you create should be conversion-driven, prompting the reader to take the next step in the buyer journey.

  • DON’T think that once you’ve briefed the writer, the piece of content is no longer your responsibility.

Content strategy is an integral part of content marketing, so you can’t just hand your brief over to the writer and expect everything to be fine. Check in with your writer frequently and offer support. When your writer has completed a first draft, read it carefully, double-check the product tie-in, make sure that the keywords have been included and make sure that the piece is in line with what you had in mind for the strategy. If you have concerns, talk to your writer and request changes if necessary.

  • DON’T forget to indicate the required tone of voice.

Your client may have a style guide, or they may have indicated what kind of tone of voice they want. Always include this in the brief. If the client hasn’t specified a tone of voice, make recommendations based on your content strategy.

Content marketing only works if your content strategy is on point. Giving your writer detailed briefs that include all the information mentioned above will go a long way to ensuring that your content marketing programme is a success.

If you’re struggling with the briefing process, or if you have a client that wants a content strategy but you don’t have capacity, it might be time to think about outsourcing content strategy and content production. Download our guide, Effectively Scale Your Agency or Marketing Department, to find out if outsourcing is an option for your agency.