How to write a killer content brief | free template

The act of writing a brief and delegating work to a freelance or external content creator can make any mid-range control freak start to sweat. But if you’re able to master the art of crafting a great content brief, it could be the start of a wonderful – and wonderfully productive – work relationship.

“A content brief? That sounds like the kind of trivial work I detest. And how can I trust this freelancer anyway? Have I even met them? What if they bollocks up the whole project and there’s no time to fix it? They’ll take us all down! Look, it’s too complicated. I’ll just create the content myself.”

Cut forward to a few days before deadline, and you’ll see the individual above in a state of twitch-eyed strain. Too proud to delegate, too busy to do the job well themselves, they’ve dug themselves into a miserable hole.

If they had carved out a small slice of time earlier to write a crisp, suitably detailed brief, they could have avoided this predicament entirely. So how do you create the perfect brief for your freelancer in order to help them, help you?

Here, with a free content brief template available for download at the end, we reveal the main components of a killer content brief.

Building a great relationship with your content creator

The work a content creator produces for you is only as as good as the brief you send them. And a good brief is that which sets out with absolute clarity what it is you want. This is particularly important when you begin work with a new content creator, who won’t have had the opportunity to familiarise themselves with your brand and its audience.

To guide your content creator through their journey towards a mutually satisfying end, detail is key. When we say ‘detail’ though, we don’t mean you should hit them over the head with an absurdly elaborate instruction manual – one that’ll take your freelancer days to absorb and probably require several Panadol to endure. We mean comprehensively precise in all the ways it needs to be. (More on this below.)

Another thing – don’t be a ninny and brief your content writer last-minute, or after they’ve already gone and written the damn thing. The result will be like discovering a reptile in what you thought was a chicken’s egg – a very different creature than the one you expected to hatch, and not an altogether welcome one too.

Finally, if there’s a hitch in understanding or communication, be sure to keep the line open and respectful. If you’re not happy with the work at any point, indicate through constructive feedback the areas needing a tad more elbow grease applied.

Refrain at all times from biting your freelancer’s head off. Exercise patience. Even if you never get the chance to meet them face-to-face, remember that there is a human (probably in possession of feelings) on the other end of the exchange.

Finally, be open to suggestions if your content creator offers them up – this person is, after all, a professional. Besides, while the content brief is essential, it’s not sacred. Your freelancer may surprise you with a fresh angle or tack.

What to include in your content brief

Now, to get to the grist of the matter. The basic information to include in your brief is as follows:

  1. Deadline – Very important. We advise giving ‘false deadlines’ so that the piece arrives in your inbox earlier than it needs to be.
  2. Word count – Alternatively, word range. You could consider specifying a maximum and/or minimum too.
  3. Publication details – In other words, where will the content appear? Will it feature in a certain publication and issue? Is it intended for print, digital format or both?
  4. Content type – Are they writing a blog? A white paper? Social media copy? A magazine interview? And so on.
  5. Topic – To be summarised in a tightly worded paragraph.   
  6. Structure – Is the piece to be organised into sub-headings or chapters? Is there a word count for each of these sections? Perhaps – as we do – you want to open your piece with a summary paragraph.

Is this enough for them to get going however? Not nearly. You’ll also need to cover…

The objective of the content

At some point, someone, somewhere in the company (possibly you) decided to create this content. Why? What role and purpose will it serve? How will it deliver on an audience need? What actions does it hope to drive? What are the intended outcomes?

By providing your content creator with the intended use and function of what they’re working on, you are lifting them out of darkness and letting them see the overall ‘vision’ of their assignment. It’s like bringing someone out of a rocket ship’s engine room basement and letting them sit on the main deck.

Doing this is also just generally good practice. It reassures content creators what they’re doing is valuable to the business – in other words, that it has a point.

The audience it is serving

Content made without a specific audience in mind has no right to exist. This is increasingly the case in today’s marketing ecosystem, where the expectation is set for super-personalised communications.

Just as every in-house content creator writes with a certain ‘buyer persona’ in mind, so should your external creator. Perhaps this persona is called ‘Jim’, and is a small business owner living in Sydney, who wants to increase his output of muffins with the kind of newfangled oven technology your company can provide. Perhaps they are called ‘Isadora’, and are a key decision-maker at an international hotel chain, and would be interested in adding breakfast muffins on the menu for their guests (when buyer persona parallel universes collide).

Whoever they are, these personas represent fictional archetypes of your ideal customer. By sharing them with your content creators, these creators will be able to write with a deep understanding of the individual in mind

Miscellaneous project-specific info

This will vary each time. It could include:

  • A background reading guide, which may include links to research, reports or sources that you either want the creator to mention, or that will otherwise give them a helping hand in their research.
  • Certain ‘call-to-actions’, specifying both where they are located, their frequency and their wording – e.g. “Download the report here” at the end, “Start your free trial today!” in the middle, or, in a perfect world, “Get free donuts!” scattered everywhere.
  • If the piece is intended for web, you should state whether you want the creator to include hyperlinks in the piece.
  • Keywords to include throughout for search engine optimisation.
  • If applicable, the names and contact details of any interview subjects you want the freelancer to reach out to for insight and/or quotes.
  • If applicable, figures and statistics for inclusion (which you can supply yourself or direct your freelancer to dig up themselves).

Setting up a good line of exchange

You may have in place a rigid workflow, with non-negotiable procedures, systems and tools. Or – more likely – you may be more flexible depending upon your content creators own resources and preferences.

Whatever the case, it’s essential that both parties come to an understanding on how content is to be collaborated and shared, as well as the ‘rules’ around communication.

We at Mahlab, for instance, love collaborating on Google docs and communicating via Slack – Stewart Butterfield’s (the co-founder of Flickr) new cloud-based workspace platform for communication and collaboration. The former enables everyone to keep track of changes, view and restore previous versions and tag collaborators in the comments. Also, everything is saved automatically. The concept of the ‘crash’ – and the trauma of lost labour – is all but obsolete. And Slack? Slack is enacting in our office a small workplace revolution.

Resources to give your content creator

Finally, if you are working with a freelancer for the first time, we strongly recommend plying them with the following:

  • A background and history of your brand – A brief summary will do.
  • Your brand style guide – This can save you from much unnecessary agony in the editing stage. Trust us: replacing hyphens with en-dashes in a 1000-word article is not fun.
  • A resource (e.g. strategy document) giving clarity to your brand’s tone of voice – i.e. “our tone is conversational, clear-cutting, jargon-free and professional. It is not sarcastic, verbose, condescending or over-formal”.
  • Links to superbly crafted, high-performing content you’ve either published yourself, or admire on a competitor’s site – These can be whole campaigns or individual pieces, depending upon the project commissioned. If you can exactly state what it is you love about them, even better.
  • Your best contact details – Perhaps you may wish to add when you are not available, so that a) they’re not bothering you at 11pm at night with calls, and b) They don’t think you’ve forgotten them if you go quiet for a few days.

The good news: the more content briefs you write, the easier it becomes. Just remember that the key to building a lasting relationship with your content creator is through direct communication, openness and respect.

Want a free content brief template?
DOWNLOAD IT HERE
It’s the very same we at Mahlab use to brief our own set of freelancers.

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Kate Prendergast contributed to the writing of this article.

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About the Author

Job Title: Group Managing Editor

About James Chalmers: James is the Group Managing Editor at Mahlab. With a background in journalism, he has helped lift the content marketing game of universities, associations and myriad more organisations besides. If he had his own way, he would do all business from his bike – even after it catapaulted him over its handles last year and planted his face in the road. To the distress of his colleagues at conferences, he does not have a Twitter account.

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