brief, media training, freelancing

Don’t get your briefs in a twist

I had an incident recently in which I was writing for a corporate blog. I’ll change the subjects to protect the guilty. However, they wanted ideas from me, which was fine. So I emailed them to say: how about something on computer operating systems working on multiple devices?

They came back quickly, OK-ing the idea Рbut asking whether we could downplay the operating system side and write about word processing instead, and leave out the multiple devices and instead focus on keyboards.

It was nearly that extreme. My resolution was to suggest a completely different angle and just write about the subjects they wanted, rather than trying to manacle my original thoughts into it. Politeness is one thing, but they’re the client and they clearly didn’t want my topics.

If you’re briefing a freelance writer, here are a few things to bear in mind:

  • We need clarity. I’ve been to meetings before at which I’ve listened to the client ideas and they’ve listened to mine; their response has been “yes, we should include that” – and then when I’ve drafted, they’ve asked why my ideas are still in there. Because you gave the impression you’d approved them.
  • We need to know your processes. OK, maybe not all of them but if you don’t have sign-off on a project, if you don’t have the authority to change a brief when we suggest ideas, don’t give us the impression that you do – or we’ll change stuff.
  • We need an idea of your objectives. OK, you want to write a white paper: the more experienced among us might know this approach has failed several times in achieving the result you want. Let us in a bit, we might be able to help more than just by bashing out words.
  • We need to know what sort of resources you have. One client once assured me they had production sorted out; this means something very specific to journalists, and it was a great surprise when she became positively schoolma’amy when she spotted a missing full stop. She didn’t have production staff at all.
  • We need specifics. Those clients that don’t know exactly what they want but they’ll “know it when they see it” are never worth the time.
  • You may need to understand a little about how we work. I had a client once who booked me for a flat rate including one draft and two rewrites based on their feedback and changing requirements. The UK branch of the company signed this off and were happy with the work I’d done. Then the US head office came back with a few more queries, which I accommodated – then a few more, which I accommodated again. It carried on. In the end, the UK office (kindly) emailed its HQ to explain that I was no longer available to them. The US office said they understood, and kept emailing me for more anyway.

It’s basically about communication and confirming stuff. Like any business engagement it’s a lot easier when we’re speaking the same language. If we’re not, we’re in for trouble!

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