Working for an agency has many advantages, but how do you get that work?
And how do you get to the top of their go-to list of freelance writers?
By agency, I’m referring to any company that does creative marketing work for other companies. So that includes ad agencies, marketing consultancies, creative firms, and public relations firms. These types of firms often hire freelance writers and copywriters to do some of that work on behalf of their clients.
Here are seven ideas I want to share with you on how to get agency work and how to rocket to the top of their go-to list of writers.
#1. How do you find the agencies you want to write for?
The easiest resource is yellowpages.com. If you narrow your search criteria to your local area and type in keywords like advertising agencies, design firms, creative marketing firms, marketing consultancies, you’ll come up with a list of all the agencies in your area.
Starting locally is a very good strategy because you have the advantage of meeting with them personally and building strong relationships with them.
The most comprehensive database in the United States is redbooks.com. They used to publish a hardcover directory called The Red Book. But now it’s all online. This database lists all the major advertising agencies, design firms, and marketing agencies in the United States.
In Canada, there’s a wonderful directory called the National List of Advertisers. You can find them at nationallistofadvertisers.com. This online database lists all the ad agencies, design firms, and marketing firms in Canada.
The National List of Advertisers also lists the clients of many of the agencies as well. This is very useful information because if you see that most of the clients are Business-to-Business companies, then you know that agency does a lot of B2B work. They could probably use the skills and talents of a good B2B copywriter.
#2. Who should you contact at an agency?
There are three categories of people you should contact at an agency for freelance writing work.
The first one is the owner. For small firms with fewer than 20 people on staff, I would suggest you go right to the top and try to contact the owner. There may be several owners, and they may refer to themselves as partner, managing partner, director, or president.
I find starting at the top is the best way to get into these small to mid-sized agencies. It’s much more difficult to contact the owner at large agencies because they’re more bureaucratic.
Another job title you need to talk to is the creative director. Most agencies have a creative director who’s in charge of the creative work. They work with the designers and writers to put it all together and develop the final product — the marketing piece that they’re creating for their client.
But in my experience, I find contacting owners more effective than contacting the creative director. But if you can’t reach the owner, try contacting the creative director and introduce yourself and your services to that person.
And a third title to contact at an agency is an account executive. Many copywriters don’t know what these people do and don’t contact them. So let me explain…
Account executives act as liaison between the agency and the clients. They’re often involved in helping to get the creative work done, so they play many roles.
Many account executives at agencies also handle the copywriting, which most copywriters don’t know. These people work with the clients closely so they feel they’re in the best position to help with the copy.
I’ve gotten a lot of work over the years from account executives who brought me into an agency and said, “Hey, here’s a great B2B writer. We really need this person for my account.”
In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, I got a call from an account executive who was overwhelmed by the amount of writing she had to do. And she was looking for some copywriting help.
So contacting the account executives can be a great way to get in and they’re very easy to reach as well.
If I were you, I would go with this order. Try contacting the owner. If you can’t go through to the owner, try the account executives. Leave the creative directors to last. In my experience, you’ll have a better chance with the owners or the account executives.
#3. Position yourself as an expert writer
When you contact an agency, you want to position yourself as a senior experienced professional as much as you can, even if you’re just starting out.
If you’re just launching your copywriting business, it’s okay to feel like a beginner, but when it comes to positioning yourself on the market, you need to position yourself as a professional, as someone who knows what they’re doing.
With agencies, it’s even more important to position yourself as an expert.
Ad agencies are inundated with calls from students who’ve just graduated from college who are looking for work or internships. They hear from beginners and amateurs all the time, so they get really skittish when new writers contact them.
You don’t want to be lumped in with that group because there’s a lot of them out there.
What you want to do is differentiate yourself by telling the agency right away that you’re a senior experienced professional.
Tell them you’ve had professional training in white papers or case studies or other AWAI programs. This will differentiate you from the crowds of beginners who don’t really have a track record.
You want to separate yourself from that group. You want the agency to sit up and notice you.
#4. What’s the best way to contact agencies?
I find that the best way to contact them is with a phone call or an email. Ideally, you should use a combination of both. Reach out to them directly to introduce yourself and your services. If you have samples, tell them about the kind of samples you have in your portfolio.
When you contact someone at the agency, your ultimate goal is to get a meeting with that person. And you want to start pitching that right away.
The very first time you contact them, you should say something like this: “Would you like to get together next week for a coffee? I can tell you a little bit more about the kind of copywriting I do. I’d be happy to buy the coffee. I can drop by your office next Wednesday at 1 o’clock. Would that be okay?”
You really need to be that assertive and try to get that meeting. In my experience with agencies, you have a much better chance of working with them if you can have a meeting with them in person.
That’s why I said earlier to focus on local agencies first because you can meet with them in person.
If you can’t meet them in person, then of course, the next best thing is to have a thorough phone meeting to introduce yourself and your services and the type of work you do.
That can work too, but it’s much better if you try to meet with them in person.
#5. Highlight your specialty and connect it to what they need
The worst thing you can do with an agency is to come in as a generalist who can write anything from taglines for consumer goods clients to case studies for B2B clients or headlines for mass advertising campaigns.
They may already have a general purpose writer in-house, so it may not be a good idea to compete with that person.
Instead, position yourself as a specialist. Pick one area or one specialty you’re really good at and highlight that.
For example, let’s say you’re focusing on industrial equipment and supplies. You have some experience and some writing samples in that area. Focus on that and tell the client about your experience writing in that area.
You want the agency to pigeonhole you as the person who writes industrial copy so they’ll call you for their forklift truck client.
That doesn’t mean you won’t get a chance to write a whole bunch of other things. This is just the way to get your foot in the door.
Once your foot is in the door of an agency, and they like your work and they like working with you, you’ll likely get a chance to write all sorts of things.
But in order to get your foot in the door, be the specialist. You can specialize by industry or by type of project, like white papers.
Keep in mind that Business-to-Business is a specialty. Many agencies don’t have good Business-to-Business writers in-house, so they look outside for help with that.
Some agencies are themselves specialists. For example, some agencies specialize in B2B content marketing like white papers and case studies for Business-to-Business companies.
So if they have a specialty, make sure when you approach them to position yourself as someone who can help them with the projects they’re already doing.
For example, I know an agency that specializes in explainer videos. An explainer video is a two- or three-minute video on a website that explains the product. These are very popular with software companies right now.
So you wouldn’t approach that agency as a white paper specialist. You want to tell them about your specialized training or experience doing explainer videos.
And how do you find out what their specialty is?
You visit that agency’s website and look at their portfolio, their client list, the projects they do. When you talk to them, try to align yourself with the type of work they’re already doing.
#6. Write fast and revise fast
Agencies often work at a blinding pace and are always pressed for time. They’ll wait till the last minute and do an entire website in two days. They’re always trying to stuff their pipeline with lots of projects and then scrambling to get them done. Even the more organized agencies work that way.
So what you want to do is show them that you can write good copy and write it quickly. For example, this might mean that you deliver an email series in three days or a case study in a week. Or you’ll write some web copy and get it to them at the end of the same day.
If you develop a reputation with them as someone who can do fast work, then you’re going to be highly valuable to them.
Of course, you’ll be valuable to that agency if your writing is great and strategic, and if the ads you write for them get great results.
But agencies really appreciate a writer who can write at the same pace as their team.
So if you can stay with their pace, then you’re going to be their hero. They’ll want to work with you because they can rely on you.
Agencies hate it when they outsource to a writer and it takes too long to get the piece done.
#7. Become part of their team
My most important tip is to do whatever you can to be part of their team. It’s true that you’re a freelancer and you’re not working as an employee. But being part of their team will help you shoot to the top and be an agency’s go-to writer.
Get to know everybody’s name and don’t be a stranger. Get to know everybody there. Don’t be that writer who simply deals with one person by email and sends in your copy and sends in your bill and no one really knows you.
If you’ve been hired by the account executive to write some copy, introduce yourself to the creative director. Contact them and say, “Hi, I’m working with Janice, the account executive. I’m working on the ACME forklift truck account. I just want to say hello.”
When you really get into an agency, I recommend you offer to attend client meetings and brainstorming sessions, perhaps at no cost.
When I was working with agencies, I’d offer to attend brainstorming sessions or to meet with potential new clients. And sometimes the agency would take me up on that.
I never charged for it, but the goodwill I built by doing that was worth that time 10 times over. I was becoming more and more part of the team.
And when you’re part of the team, then you’re locked in and they really don’t look anywhere else for a writer. You become their go-to writer because you’re one of them.
I even know one copywriter who joined a client’s weekend baseball team. She did that for two reasons: one, she loves baseball, and two, it was a good way for her to build the relationship with her client by being part of the company team.
So as much as you can, be part of the team when you work with an agency. That alone will go a long way to positioning yourself as a go-to writer for an agency.