How a “mission brief” makes your writing much easier, part 4

Why write yourself a brief for an important writing project? Are you “the client,” all of a sudden? No, but just as you wouldn’t cut out fabric to make a dress or suit without using a pattern, you shouldn’t approach any major writing project without a very clear plan outlining how you’re going to reach your objectives. In this fourth and final article, we look at the importance of honesty, simplicity and focus … (If you haven’t read the earlier articles, click on Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)

Is honesty so bad after all?

People, and especially business people, are terrified of honesty.  Yet time and time again it is proven in the business world (and even in politics these days) that honesty gains far more respect than bullshit does.  It may require a bit of bravery to tell the truth, and that’s perhaps how you can sell it to your superiors if they’re quaking under their desks at the thought of admitting to the price increase being their fault, not the fault of the suppliers in the Yukon.  If you demonstrate open admiration for your superiors’ noble courage and strong, truthful leadership at this difficult time, they’re going to have to live up to it.

One of the most awkward questions I have to ask clients when I’m taking a brief for a project (and as an external writer, I’m the one who has to ask some real doozers) is, “what’s the hidden agenda?”  If you’re going to compose a meaningful mission brief you need to know the whole story, not just the bits other people think you should know.  If you’re already working for the organization concerned then chances are you may know some or all of it already.  But even if you think you know, ask again.  Whatever there is that could come crawling out from under the skirting boards must do it now, before you even consider taking a message to an audience, so the message ultimately can be composed in the light of all possibilities.  There’s nothing that makes your organization look so foolish as someone responding to a press release about your new product by saying “yes, but didn’t you know this type of clip was banned in Sweden last month because it didn’t pass the safety tests?”


And that leads me tidily on to the next important issue which is, do your homework. Someone in your organization probably does know that the clip failed the safety tests in Sweden, but thinks it doesn’t matter because you’re launching it in New Zealand.  Go and dig around.  Talk to everyone involved with the project, no matter how remote.  If the project is about a product or service, go and talk to the people who make the product or conduct the service.  Go and talk, especially, to the people who sell it.  They will know exactly what its problems are, if it has any, because if it has any their customers will have complained to them about it.  If it’s a staff communication project, go and talk to the staff, and to the line managers who work with the staff – not just the HR people.

Find out everything you can.  You may not see the point of going into this depth, but even if you hear the same things from several different people, the exercise broadens your understanding of the issues surrounding the project.  The more familiar you are with it, the more comfortable you will feel when communicating messages about it.

One thing at a time

Most of us have grown up with someone, somewhere shouting to us “one thing at a time,” and most of us have experienced the frustration and ineffectiveness of trying to do several things at once.  Yes, there are people who can simultaneously multi-task and emerge having completed 24 tasks in one sweep and still smile.  Mothers of young children are good examples of this.  However when communicating business messages we can’t afford to rely on our audiences all having the lightning-fast, multi-faceted presence of mind that the mothers of young children do.

Many organizations feel that an expensive piece of communication should be treated like a trip to the supermarket, with as much as possible loaded on to the shopping trolley to make the whole exercise worthwhile.  Sadly this just doesn’t work (but you try explaining that to some accountants and financial executives.)  However if you’re in a position to make the decision on what gets communicated, whatever you do, keep it simple.  One production of a corporate video does not work as a marketing video, training video, induction video, recruitment video and customer service video all at the same time.  What happens if you attempt such a stunt is that all audience groups are convinced of just this – that your organization is dull, insipid and doesn’t care enough to talk to them directly.

Horses for courses

Current technology available both for paper-based and screen-based communication is such that creating different versions of a message is nowhere nearly as costly as it was in the past.  This allows you to tailor messages appropriately without having to re-invent the wheel each time.

As before, always focusing on your desired outcome helps to keep you on the straight and narrow not only in the development of your mission brief but also in ensuring you don’t start giving birth to its brothers and sisters.  No matter how complex the brief turns out to be and how many qualifying issues it takes to support the desired outcome, as long as your mission isn’t confused by messages about other issues it will emerge in a strong and efficient way.  A press ad for your fast pizza delivery service can be qualified by information about flavours available, low prices, extra toppings, free soft drinks for orders worth over so much, and any other add-on you want – they all help support the main message.  However all that will be significantly diluted if you slot in stuff about the romantic candlelit dinners for two at your adjacent restaurant, your take-away burgers and hot dogs, and your new espresso and latte bar.

To read the whole of this series of articles, go:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

More ways to make your writing much easier:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English