The art of the content project brief

The art of the content project brief

4 minute read

The art of the content project brief

4 minute read

The art of the content project brief

Lauren Pope

Content Strategy and Digital Transformation Consultant

A well-written brief helps your project get off to a strong start, stay on-track, and reach a successful conclusion. Briefing is an art form. But it’s an underrated one. Far too many content projects start without a brief, or with one that’s half-hearted and not that helpful. 

Here I’ll explain how a great brief makes a difference, how to write one, and share a template to help you write your own.

Why creating a content brief matters

Briefing matters because it pins down the details of the project. When those details only exist in someone’s head, there’s a lot of room for error. It could be ambiguity about key details, a blind-spot you’re not aware of, or even the potential for disagreement later down the line over mismatched expectations.

The process of getting the details down in a document gives you a moment to check you’ve got all the information you need to get started, and that everyone is aligned on the goal of the project and how you’ll approach it. A good brief also makes starting something new less intimidating, because it creates some certainty and a solid platform to push off from.

And when the project is up-and-running your brief acts like a compass - you can check it regularly to ensure you’re on-track.

When you need a brief

Ideally you should have a brief for everything you do. 

For a quick task, like a simple update to a piece of content, you don’t need a long brief, but you still need to pin down and align on the key details. You might be able to do this in an email or in a quick conversation, but you should still do it and consider writing it down. 

Every piece of content you create should have a brief to guide it too - without it, it’s just too subjective. It’s also a good opportunity to get early input from subject matter experts. Again, this doesn’t have to be a lengthy process, and starting out with a good brief speeds up the writing process anyway.

For chunky projects like a website redesign, a content marketing campaign, adding a new section of content to a site, creating a style guide, a written brief should be non-negotiable, and you should plan to put a decent amount of time into creating it. See it as an investment - putting in the time to get the details agreed early in the process will have rewards later on.

Take ownership (even if it’s not your project)

If you’re the one who’s in charge of the project, taking ownership of the brief is straightforward. Less so if you’re not, and you get a bad brief or don’t get one at all. One approach is to write it yourself, and then approach the owner (diplomatically) saying you wanted a brief to help you get started, and would they be happy to give you some input. Alternatively, you could ask the owner if you can find some time to meet and write the brief together.

What goes into a good brief?

A good, comprehensive brief has quite a few different elements. This might look like a long to-do list, but figuring it all out now will save time later.

  1. Summary: What’s the brief, in a single sentence? It’s easier to come back and tackle this when you’ve written the rest of the brief.
  2. Proposition: What’s the proposition behind this project? This is the common goal between the organisation and the audience that forms the kernel of your strategy. You could also think of this as a hypothesis you’re testing out.
  3. Goal: What’s the goal you’re working towards? How will you know if you’ve been successful?
  4. KPIs/OKRs/metrics: What are the key performance indicators, objectives and key results, or metrics you will use to measure the success of the project? Be specific here - use benchmark and set targets if you can.
  5. Audience: Who is the audience for the content? How do they think and act? Do you have personas? You might want to link to other documents or research here.
  6. Messaging: What are the main points you want to communicate to the audience? If you have a message architecture or hierarchy, you can add or link to it here.
  7. Channels: Where should this content be published? What channels, locations, sections of the website etc, are you going to use, and what kind of content should go on each?
  8. Current landscape/context: What’s happening now? What have you already done as part of this piece of work? What existing research, artefacts, deliverables etc should this work draw on? Provide links to any relevant reading that people should catch up on.
  9. Scope: What should this piece of work include? What doesn’t it include? It’s worth considering this section carefully, as scope can often become an area of contention later on in a project.
  10. Execution: Are there any guidelines, policies or non-negotiable areas that you need to consider? If you have a style guide, asset library, brand book etc that’s relevant, link to it here.
  11. Timeline: What’s the deadline? When are the milestones along the way?
  12. Risks: What could go wrong? Let your imagination run wild, be creative, get all your worst fears down on paper, and then think of some ways you can mitigate those risks too,
  13. Stakeholders and RACI: Who are the team and stakeholders? Make a list of the people involved and their roles on the project. It can also be useful to put all those names into a RACI matrix: are they: responsible, accountable, consulted, or informed?
  14. Budget: What’s the budget? How much money, time and resource do you have available?

Keep it up-to-date

Don’t feel like a brief is immovable and set in stone - go back to it throughout the project, check your progress against it, use it as a benchmark, but also update it if things change or you learn something important.

Want to master the art of the brief?

Briefing is like anything else - practice makes perfect. To help you get started, download this briefing template - it has headings and questions to help guide you.

A well-written brief helps your project get off to a strong start, stay on-track, and reach a successful conclusion. Briefing is an art form. But it’s an underrated one. Far too many content projects start without a brief, or with one that’s half-hearted and not that helpful. 

Here I’ll explain how a great brief makes a difference, how to write one, and share a template to help you write your own.

Why creating a content brief matters

Briefing matters because it pins down the details of the project. When those details only exist in someone’s head, there’s a lot of room for error. It could be ambiguity about key details, a blind-spot you’re not aware of, or even the potential for disagreement later down the line over mismatched expectations.

The process of getting the details down in a document gives you a moment to check you’ve got all the information you need to get started, and that everyone is aligned on the goal of the project and how you’ll approach it. A good brief also makes starting something new less intimidating, because it creates some certainty and a solid platform to push off from.

And when the project is up-and-running your brief acts like a compass - you can check it regularly to ensure you’re on-track.

When you need a brief

Ideally you should have a brief for everything you do. 

For a quick task, like a simple update to a piece of content, you don’t need a long brief, but you still need to pin down and align on the key details. You might be able to do this in an email or in a quick conversation, but you should still do it and consider writing it down. 

Every piece of content you create should have a brief to guide it too - without it, it’s just too subjective. It’s also a good opportunity to get early input from subject matter experts. Again, this doesn’t have to be a lengthy process, and starting out with a good brief speeds up the writing process anyway.

For chunky projects like a website redesign, a content marketing campaign, adding a new section of content to a site, creating a style guide, a written brief should be non-negotiable, and you should plan to put a decent amount of time into creating it. See it as an investment - putting in the time to get the details agreed early in the process will have rewards later on.

Take ownership (even if it’s not your project)

If you’re the one who’s in charge of the project, taking ownership of the brief is straightforward. Less so if you’re not, and you get a bad brief or don’t get one at all. One approach is to write it yourself, and then approach the owner (diplomatically) saying you wanted a brief to help you get started, and would they be happy to give you some input. Alternatively, you could ask the owner if you can find some time to meet and write the brief together.

What goes into a good brief?

A good, comprehensive brief has quite a few different elements. This might look like a long to-do list, but figuring it all out now will save time later.

  1. Summary: What’s the brief, in a single sentence? It’s easier to come back and tackle this when you’ve written the rest of the brief.
  2. Proposition: What’s the proposition behind this project? This is the common goal between the organisation and the audience that forms the kernel of your strategy. You could also think of this as a hypothesis you’re testing out.
  3. Goal: What’s the goal you’re working towards? How will you know if you’ve been successful?
  4. KPIs/OKRs/metrics: What are the key performance indicators, objectives and key results, or metrics you will use to measure the success of the project? Be specific here - use benchmark and set targets if you can.
  5. Audience: Who is the audience for the content? How do they think and act? Do you have personas? You might want to link to other documents or research here.
  6. Messaging: What are the main points you want to communicate to the audience? If you have a message architecture or hierarchy, you can add or link to it here.
  7. Channels: Where should this content be published? What channels, locations, sections of the website etc, are you going to use, and what kind of content should go on each?
  8. Current landscape/context: What’s happening now? What have you already done as part of this piece of work? What existing research, artefacts, deliverables etc should this work draw on? Provide links to any relevant reading that people should catch up on.
  9. Scope: What should this piece of work include? What doesn’t it include? It’s worth considering this section carefully, as scope can often become an area of contention later on in a project.
  10. Execution: Are there any guidelines, policies or non-negotiable areas that you need to consider? If you have a style guide, asset library, brand book etc that’s relevant, link to it here.
  11. Timeline: What’s the deadline? When are the milestones along the way?
  12. Risks: What could go wrong? Let your imagination run wild, be creative, get all your worst fears down on paper, and then think of some ways you can mitigate those risks too,
  13. Stakeholders and RACI: Who are the team and stakeholders? Make a list of the people involved and their roles on the project. It can also be useful to put all those names into a RACI matrix: are they: responsible, accountable, consulted, or informed?
  14. Budget: What’s the budget? How much money, time and resource do you have available?

Keep it up-to-date

Don’t feel like a brief is immovable and set in stone - go back to it throughout the project, check your progress against it, use it as a benchmark, but also update it if things change or you learn something important.

Want to master the art of the brief?

Briefing is like anything else - practice makes perfect. To help you get started, download this briefing template - it has headings and questions to help guide you.

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About the author

Lauren Pope

Lauren is a freelance content strategy and digital transformation consultant, working with organisations that make the world a better, fairer, more beautiful place.

Lauren has been working in content and digital since way back in 2007 and since then has worked with some of the world’s biggest brands, including adidas, American Express, Microsoft and Tetra Pak.  

She lives in Brighton, and loves the Downs, the sea, dystopian fiction and bold lipstick.


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