How To Write a Publisher Brief

Ivelin Radkov / Shutterstock
By Emily E. Steck

Creative briefs, editorial briefs and—publisher briefs? In the age where brands are becoming publishers, it’s important that brands can “brief” their creative(s) to execute content marketing initiatives. A combination of creative briefs (used in advertising campaigns) and editorial briefs (used for writers and editors), publisher briefs take the best of both to create a specific, unique brief for a brand who is transitioning into being a publisher.

Think of content marketing as a game, for a moment. The brand is the coach and the players are the content marketers. Now how does the coach tell the players what to do to “win” the game? By handing them a game plan. In content marketing, the playbook is a publisher brief. Thus, a publisher brief is:

  • Created for content marketers to execute a brand’s content marketing campaigns.
  • Shares many of the same “plays” from other creative and editorial briefs.
  • Communicates the key elements of an assignment, task or campaign to be carried out by the creative or team of creatives
  • A message from the brand to the people working on the brand’s campaign aka a message from the coach to players

All content marketing campaigns need publisher briefs in order to “win” their games—aka to have their pieces of content become successful. It’s the playbook for creatives to execute content while it reinforces the brand’s long-term and short-term content strategy.

What They Should Include

Here’s what they should include.

Part 1: Reiterate the Objective

With a good content strategy under your belt, it will be super simple to write out the brief’s target audience, goals and commercial objectives. If these are unclear to your brand, you’ll need to rework your strategy.

  • A “big picture” objective. This is used as a reminder of why the content is being made, for whom, etc.
  • Detail a brief description of the overall project.
  • Specify the target audience. Especially if the audience changes depending on the series type. For example, if you have two series about travel for you blog and one is for locals and one is for tourists.
  • Include overarching goals, whether that’s to increase sales or to increase social shares.
  • The brand’s core values, mission statement, etc. This may seem silly if your brand has an in-house team, but it’s essential for content agencies, freelancers, contract work, etc. A little blurb reminding the creatives of the Brand, core values, its mission statement can go a long way to ensuring that the creative is “on brand.”

Part 2: The Assignment

The best assignment guidelines manage to outline exactly what is expected from the piece without micromanaging creative. In the assignment, you’ll outline key parameters the creative needs to meet. Here is what absolutely needs to be in the assignment portion of a publisher brief:

  • Timing/Deadlines: A no-brainer. Your publisher brief needs very clear deadlines for drafts and final drafts to execute your content. Pro tip: when creating deadlines, leave some flexible room in case the deadlines are not met, for whatever reason. It will save you your sanity.
  • Include a Style Guide: We’ve detailed how to create/choose your own one here. It’s important that you include a link of some kind to the style guide and “in-house rules.”
  • Tone: If tone is the writer’s attitude towards the subject matter, what position should the writer take on it? This is where you can outline that the piece should take an informational and straightforward tone or humorous and irreverent one, all the while keeping the brand’s voice.
  • Creative Media: If it’s a campaign consisting of the copy, graphics and or video, specify that when and where that is appropriate.

All creative briefs need at least this much information as well as other specific directions. Length, for example, is a big one: do you need 3,000 words or 300? Does the article need at least 5 images, 3 of them GIFs? Should the creatives be writing 10 headlines for the brand to choose from? If you have a specific vision for the content, make that clear in these instructions.

Part 3: Additional Information

You may also consider adding any of these things to the brief:

  • What Competitors Are Doing: If a competitor is creating a great/terrible example of content marketing, refer the creatives to that work to model after it or ignore it completely. It’s also a good idea to let your team know about competitors’ content so they don’t copy it.
  • Absolute Don’ts: After you include these essentials, you’ll need to include rules of off-limit topics and language within the content. For example, profanity is often prohibited.
  • Resource Guides: A handy document or link to the style guide, branding, competitive analysis, existing source materials and legal documents (especially if they are using media).
  • Contact Sheet: Who to contact and for what. This will save you from a lot of unnecessary emails asking to connect with so-and-so.

Finally, you’ll want to keep the brief organized. Structure it logically (maybe use a table of contents if it’s super long) and make it easy to read.

And that’s all folks. After the brief is polished off, it’s time to send it out to the creative(s) in charge of executing that content. Remember that publisher briefs are game plans to keep your content marketing on track and you’ll content marketing will win the Superbowl.


For more stories covering the intersection between journalism and technology, Quietly product updates, and other industry insights, follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Originally published at blog.quiet.ly on March 25, 2015.

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