As a writer, I’m surprised how often a client asks me for some text and there’s no brief to give any direction. They say, ‘you’re the creative, that’s why I called you in’. 

So, unwilling to get into an argument, I grit my teeth and write, trying to interpret what I think they might be thinking. Some of the time, my acumen and mind-reading skills pull me through. I’m the shining star capable of miracles. Other times, I’ve totally missed the point. Or taking the safe, more cautious approach, written something so predictable and bland that it fails to ignite.

I’ve wasted time. The deadline is now adding pressure. And it’s costly having to go back to the drawing board – especially when other clients are reminding me of their deadlines too. The client is disappointed and I feel frustrated. 

Sometimes, for example, real estate agent clients send me to their clients’ homes for which I’m tasked to create the promotional material – words for the web, the video talk-over, print media, brochures, signage and so on. When I ask for direction and they tell me they’re looking for my creativity; they don’t want to put words in my head, I try to elicit some basics like who the buyers might be and the key things that will help sell the property – but some play a game of intrigue and say it’s all up to me.

As I work mainly in the central Auckland market (though I can write up any property anywhere), these properties are usually worth several millions.  That’s a heck of a responsibility. Especially when there’s no brief.

So before you call me, whatever content writing project you have in mind, give me a break - please please make my life easier and at least think about a brief. Check this list, then make the call. I guarantee it will make your life easier too.

First off, what’s your purpose and who are you trying to influence? Who are my words directed at and are there other groups that might take notice too? What tone of voice do your require? Is the language formal, casual, friendly, informative, serious etc?

Is there any material published I should take a look at that might inform me?

What is your positioning in the market – how do you rate against the competition – think SWOT analysis?

What are the benefits and which is the key benefit to play up most?

What sort of response are you seeking? What do you want your readers to do after reading your text? Is their a call to action required?

How are you going to reach the audience with this message – what kind of distribution channels are you using?

What about word length? How crucial is it that I stick to absolutes here?

What about headings – long or short, punchy or serious? And what’s the main angle here? Can you sum up what you want to say in just three or four words?

Deadline is crucial. Does this job march to the top of my pile or can it slosh around in my head as I ruminate on it for a couple of days/weeks.

And most important of all – cost! Be upfront please. If I don’t like your expectations then it’s nice to be able to tell you straight away rather than having to waste time negotiating further down the track.

Of course, sometimes content is really simple and the brief can be outlined in a couple of sentences. But the fact is, if you can deliver a brief to the point and straight away, I can assure you, you’ll be pleased with the result.