What’s it like being a copywriter for an agency?

Rebecca Nicholl

Creative Concern

I was asked to write a post on being a copywriter in an agency. Absolutely. No problem.

First things first, I guess it’s the same as being a freelance or in-house copywriter… isn’t it?

Working with words, getting messages across, building brands, stringing sentence together.

But then I guess not.

A bit about the agency
At this point, I should give you a bit of background to the agency I work in. We’re a healthy mix of copywriting, design, PR, film and digital. Our clients work in the worlds of sustainability, the environment, social housing, tourism and arts and culture. And that makes a difference. I get to write for really interesting clients who are genuinely trying to do ‘good’.

Then again, maybe that isn’t dissimilar to lots of other copywriters, but it’s a good scene setter.

Copy vs. design
Back to the blog. I asked around a bit, what did non-agency copywriters want to know about being a copywriter in an agency? And the resounding answer – tell us about the split between copy and design. Ah, that old chestnut.

Short answer: Yes, design gets more time, budget and attention.

But let’s not jump to conclusions (well, jump to them, but then put them aside for a moment). I’ve worked on projects where there’s eight hours for copywriting and 40 for design, or even absolutely no budget for copywriting, but ‘can we still give it a once over’? But for all of these, there are the clients that will pay for copywriting, editing and proofreading. Those who see the value and pay for the skills of a professional copywriter.

And of course, some projects get more design budget and attention because there’s more design involved. Chances are the copy is easier to crack, but the design just takes longer.

The good (agency) life
For ten years, we had one copywriter (hi) to seven designers. In the last 18 months or so, it’s been two to eight. On the surface, it sounds like an imbalance, but I like to think it can work in the copywriter’s favour.

In an agency, you have to learn to write fast, make quick copy decisions, and juggle workloads. I can be working with three or four designers at once, on three or four completely different pieces of work.

Switching between tones of voice, house styles, format and subject matter is something I relish. It drives me crazy to work on one piece of work for days on end. I crave variety. And I’m sure I do my best work when I’ve got a few different things on the go.

Let me give you an example. At the moment, I’m writing factsheets for a youth charity on the EU Referendum, I’m editing a 150 page report on health inequalities, I’m drafting tweets for a museum and, at the back of my mind, I’ve got some advertising copy lines ticking over about sustainable buildings. Reading that back, it makes me sound like a jack of all trades. But it’s the way I like it.

Now, as long as I don’t get them mixed up, it’ll all be fine…

What do you think?

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