Tom Hanks. Cary Grant. Lee Majors. Lauren Graham. Even Gonzo (one of the Muppets). All have portrayed ad agency copywriters in movies or on television.
Working at an agency often is perceived as exciting and glamorous. And in many ways it is. There are a lot of fascinating projects you can be involved in — everything from glossy ads in magazines to major television commercials. You also get a chance to work with a team of other creative professionals. The camaraderie among agency staff is often tight. Friday nights at the pub is a common ritual.
However, there is a downside. As a copywriter at an ad agency, you can expect a lot of stress and late nights as you try to crank out client-pleasing copy under increasingly tight deadlines. It's not uncommon for the creative director — your boss — to bring you a cappuccino at five in the afternoon and ask, “We're pitching a new account tomorrow morning. Would you mind working late tonight on some concepts?” He's just being polite. You're expected to say yes.
There are many types of agencies. Advertising agencies manage advertising and marketing for their clients. Public relations agencies help generate publicity. Investor relations agencies produce annual reports and other materials that target shareholders and investors. Direct marketing agencies produce direct-mail, telemarketing, and infomercial campaigns.
Still, many writers love the frenetic pace and excitement of an ad agency environment. It's a great place to learn the ropes — and fast. If you get an entry-level job at an agency, you'll work with experienced professionals who will review your copy and help develop your talents. In addition, you'll be exposed to the full spectrum of communications development, everything from strategy and planning to production and distribution. You'll learn a lot in just a few months.
Getting Your Foot in the Door
How do you get a job at an agency? The best place to look for opportunities is in major industry publications. (See Appendix C.) They often feature Help Wanted ads by agencies looking for writers and other creative professionals.
However, the best jobs often are never advertised. So take the initiative and contact agencies directly. Give them a call or write a great pitch letter explaining why you're a writer worth hiring. Most agency executives will respect your approach.
At large agencies, writers are usually hired by the creative director or copy chief. At smaller agencies, it's usually the senior partner or owner.
Salaries for agency writers vary widely, depending on experience and track record. If you're just starting out, don't be too disappointed by an entry-level salary of $30,000. It will increase quickly as you gain more experience and get a few projects under your belt. If you write a few very successful campaigns, other agencies may even woo you. You'll be in demand. Top copywriters can earn as high as $135,000, with the average for those with five or more years' experience being about $65,000.