How to ask the right questions to deal with dodgy copy briefs

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Written By Jim Butcher

The Copy Collective’s Mr Romance, Jim Butcher, delves into the world of dodgy briefs and hands out some helpful suggestions for navigating your way through.

There’s nothing worse than those cold sweats from fretting over a brief to which you just can’t respond. You’ve spent way too long pondering the job but you still can’t get into the swing of it. Behind the brief
This could be because the brief is inadequate. It happens frequently; so don’t be too surprised. And there are many reasons for it:

  • Perhaps there was more than one person working on the brief. Too many cooks spoiling the broth and all that.
  • For some, creating a watertight brief isn’t important and they just want it off their desks, so what you’ve received could just be a bit of a palm-off.
  • This might be the person’s first brief, you never know.

Whatever the reason, don’t worry. As long as you’ve caught this early enough, there are things you can do. 

Asking the right questions
As you read through your brief, which you should do thoroughly as soon as you can, make sure the following questions are answered. If they’re not, then ask the client:

  • Audience – Whom are you writing for?
  • Tone – does this need a conversational tone? Is it a report or an emotive piece?
  • Purpose – is this going to be a letter asking for donations? A blog post? A promotion or sales pitch?
  • Additional material – is there reference material that hasn’t been provided that may support the information that is attached? Make sure you ask for all relevant material.

If there is a lot of background information, it’s OK to ask for direction on to the specific focus of the piece. Sometimes a client will just give you everything, which is great. But trawling through a 900-page document for a 300-word piece isn’t going to work for you or the client. 

Getting the job done
Ask your questions and plan to ask as many as you need to at once. By planning, you will save your client time on separate phone calls or emails. And if you’re still not clear, ask again.
Your client won’t mind fielding your questions. Deep down, most people know when they’ve written a brief that may be missing the mark. 

Tell us your tricks
So; what do you do if the brief you’ve received isn’t up to scratch? Comment away…