The Anatomy of an Effective Content Brief

The best projects I’ve been a part of have this in common:

A clear content brief.

I’m not surprised. The content brief (or creative brief, or project brief, or kickoff meeting) is the backbone of any content project.

Just like a clear recipe can make the difference between cooking a gourmet meal and ordering takeout, a clear content brief saves you time, eliminates the need for multiple edits, and makes good content a no-brainer.

Every team I work with has a slightly different process — and that’s OK. But there are a handful of things that nearly guarantee I’ll be able to nail the right tone and message the first time around.

First: do I need to write up a formal content brief?

Short answer: no.

Long answer: Some teams always use a formal briefing document, either because that’s their standard procedure or because it works well for them. Other teams love the convenience of Google chat.

I find that a phone call (or face-to-face meeting) is the best way to capture the subtler details of a project — especially if it’s our first time working together. Plus, it allows me to pull out information that might be missed in a questionnaire or project sheet.

For example, one of my clients sent over a brief on a new medical device, the problem it solves, and its main benefits. But when I dug a bit further, I learned that his product uses technology that’s brand new to the industry. The information from that meeting was critical to developing great content for his product.

If you do choose a live meeting format, I recommend capturing all the details in a briefing document.

Getting it all down in writing puts everyone on the same page — literally.

(I save all the details in my content briefing template, which you can snag below.)

What should be in your content brief?

The best content briefs I’ve received weren’t overly complicated or in-depth.

If you’ve chosen a high-quality writer, you can safely expect that they’ll do their homework. (For me, that usually includes researching your website, reading your blog, and checking you out on social media before starting on your project.)

But there are a few key elements you won’t want to skip out on when creating or discussing your brief.

1. When do you need this?

Good: Tell me your drop-dead date for the content.
Better: Leave time for revisions and approvals in your timeline.

2. What do you need?

Good: Describe the content you need and how you will use it (“We need content for an infographic educating customers on how our product is made. Also a 500 word article to promote the infographic.”)
Better: List out specific project requirements, key message, supporting information, and ideas you want included.

3. What’s your goal?

Good: Outline your primary goal for the campaign (“attract new readers”, “grow our mailing list”, “increase customer loyalty”).
Better: Explain how you will measure the success of the campaign or piece. Don’t forget to describe your target call-to-action.

4. Who is this for?

Good: Describe your target audience.
Better: Share a link to the website of one of your clients so I can check them out. Send me testimonials, data, and success stories from your clients so I can see how they speak and describe the work you do or services you offer.

5. Who is your competition?

Good: Give me the names and websites of 2-3 of your top competitors.
Better: Describe what sets you apart from your competition (your key differentiator). Back it up with proof.

5. What’s the tone for this piece?

Good: Use the Goldilocks method: Instead of simply describing your brand’s voice, describe what’s close but not quite right. (“Our tone is smart but not stuffy, friendly but not bubbly…”)
Better: Share examples of similar content you like and dislike (and why). Link to an example from your current content that demonstrates the tone and formatting you’re looking for. If you frequently work with multiple writers or freelancers, consider creating a brand style guide.

6. Who will make the decisions?

Good: Provide me with the name and email of anyone whose approval is needed on the final content.
Better: Discuss the project with your team prior to the briefing meeting, then choose one “point person” who will communicate with the writer and approve all content.

This sounds time consuming. Is there a faster option?

Briefing your writer does take a few extra minutes up front, but it will save you hours in back-and-forth emails and revisions.

But there’s good news: Once you find a writer who works well with your team, you won’t need to repeat these steps every time. The more you work together, the faster it gets.

In fact, a few of my clients only need to send me a few notes and bullet points to get started.

Convinced? Download my content brief template for your next project.

Customize it to your needs, fancy it up with your own branding, use it however you like.

You don’t even need to enter your email — just click here to download.

template-content-briefBut if you like it, would you do me a favor and share it with your friends using this link?

Like you, my business thrives on happy readers who spread the word.



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