I’ve just finished writing a 64-page brochure which made me think about the brochure copywriting process. As with so many other aspects of copywriting, clients aren’t necessarily aware of what goes on ‘behind the scenes’.
That’s why this article may be useful in giving freelance copywriters some tips about:
- – Helping your client appreciate the work that’s involved in professional brochure copywriting
- – How you cost your work and how you can justify your copywriting rates.
In my experience, clients fall into two camps when it comes to understanding how brochure copy arrives fully-formed and fitting beautifully onto the page.
Firstly, there are those who understand that making sure the brochure content is expressed clearly, informatively and persuasively isn’t always as easy as it looks. In other words, they appreciate the copywriting skills involved and they are happy to pay for the services of a professional copywriter.
On the other hand, there are those clients who think that writing brochures is all very straightforward and aren’t quite sure what all the fuss is about. To them, brochures are akin to the ‘flyers’ they’ve been pushing through people’s doors for many a year.
I hardly need say that you need to be aware that a certain type of client can cause problems. These may occur when writing the copy to begin with, and then in justifying a reasonable rate for the job.
It helps of course if the copywriter is involved with the project from the outset, where the copy is seen by the client as an integral part of the design – and not as some afterthought or ‘add on’.
Before this begins to sound a little arrogant, it’s always wise for the copywriter to acknowledge that there may be design and print cost constraints that restrict the size of the brochure. The number of pages available to a copywriter will obviously affect both the structure and length of the brochure copy.
In any event, you should expect a decent brief, as well as access to as many references as possible to ensure you have all the details you need about the company and its products or services. It may also be useful to interview relevant people whose unique knowledge or opinions are a pre-requisite to writing good copy.
Right from the outset…
During all these early discussions, it’s important to be patient and polite. After all, you want to come across as a confident professional, not someone who has difficulty getting their ducks in a row.
When it comes to actually writing the brochure, there are of course many techniques you can use to present your information. What you should always aim for is collaboration with the designer. Deciding on which creative takes the lead – copywriter or designer – can depend on many factors.
Very often, a client will want a brochure to have a specific ‘feel’ to appeal to his target audience. It’s highly likely, therefore, that the designer has been pre-briefed to come up with specific imagery, typography or layout that will largely dictate the copywriting brief in terms of tone of voice, content, layout and length.
The front cover of a brochure is obviously very important. The imagery used will set the tone throughout. Nevertheless, a copywriter should always be prepared to say that, in order to optimise the brochure’s visual and commercial effectiveness, a strong creative concept should be thought through that combines a benefit-led headline with imagery that fits in with the strategic business thinking behind the brochure.
The underlying creative concept, as well as the graphics and copy used to execute it on the front cover, should be carried through as part of a consistent theme throughout the rest of the brochure. Designers and copywriters alike should try to resist the client who wants to take off at a tangent, creatively speaking – or who wants to include unrelated material in the brochure, simply because the opportunity exists!
Shorter brochures of around six pages or so should have an obvious unifying layout with sequential copy to match. Again, copywriters and designers need to agree on the best format and layout as well as the best images, graphics, headlines and body copy to achieve this.
Longer brochures should also have consistent graphics and a relatively uniform layout that still has plenty of visual vitality and appeal. Examples of useful devices to create a sense of order are to use an index or colour-coded pages.
Brochure copywriting can vary greatly and this is often a reflection of the subject matter. Consumer goods brochures, for example, tend to be heavier on the imagery and light on body copy. They will, however, be more reliant on a strong creative concept, bold headlines and short body copy that may have lots of bullet points, panels or testimonials.
Technical or business-to-business brochures will usually be more measured in tone with benefit-led headlines, sub-headings and bullet points that outline technical issues. Specific product ranges or divisions of a company may require separate colour-coded panels or, where there are lots of products or services to outline, these could be included on separate product or data-sheets that are inserted into a wallet at the back of the brochure.
A copywriter’s role in assessing how much content will be in the brochure and the format that will be the most effective is priceless. Wherever possible, an assessment should be made at the outset in conjunction with a designer. A client will appreciate this as part of the process of arriving at indicative costs.
An alternative scenario may be where a copywriter is approached by either a client or a designer with a completed layout. In this situation, a copywriter will probably be expected to provide an estimated cost based on the layout provided. Much of what has already been written about delivering an optimal creative outcome no longer applies!
In many cases, the imagery will already have been decided and any talk about creative concepts, layout and content volume will be irrelevant. The downside of this is that the completed brochure will lack the incisive relevance that a more collaborative approach would have produced.
Unfortunately, there’s a definite correlation between the ultimate effectiveness of a brochure and how closely a copywriter is involved in the decision-making process.