client side vs agency side.
One of the biggest choices that a prospective copywriter must make at the beginning of their career is whether to work “client-side” or “agency-side”.
Working client-side means that you are producing copy for only one company, usually as a part of said company’s marketing department. This contrasts agency-side roles where you work for a company that offers exclusively a range of marketing services to multiple clients.
The two types of roles require different skills and mindsets, and generally take you down different career paths.
Hiring managers on both sides will look favourably on candidates who show an appreciation for the distinction between the two dynamics, and who can demonstrate the specific skills to thrive in a particular environment.
breadth vs depth in your portfolio.
In an agency role, you will likely find yourself working with several clients who each want to convey a unique message and tone in their copy. In a client-side role, you’ll be tasked with coming up with new angles and messages for the same company in a bid to open up untapped markets.
Both are creative challenges, however, they are different enough to merit separate approaches when applying for positions in each type of company.
Agencies typically want to see adaptability in a candidates’ writing, as the role requires working for multiple clients, often switching between tasks in a single day.
When building a portfolio of writing with the view to apply for an agency position, you should look for writing opportunities that provide a stark contrast to each other. An example of this would be writing a white paper for a highly technical industry, and writing a shorter piece for a popular B2C campaign.
One way of doing this is by asking people you know who work in contrasting companies to set briefs for you according to their company’s writing styles. This should allow you to showcase examples of the type of work that you would likely be doing in an agency.
Showing both the brief and your final piece in your portfolio can also demonstrate your ability to interpret and work to a brief, which is a skill that employers on both the client and agency-side are looking for.
Client-side copywriting roles require a depth of knowledge in both your company’s offering, their target audience segments, and the wider industry that they operate in. You can stand out in the job hunt by preselecting an industry that you want to specialise in and catering your portfolio to that industry.
The ability to demonstrate a wider interest in your chosen industry, such as through internships or previous work experience can also help you stand out in addition to your specialised writing portfolio.
Both agency and client-side roles will see you writing for a diverse range of platforms and formats, including sales copy, blog, and non-commercial writing, social media copy, and hard print. Your portfolio for either role should be varied enough to demonstrate competency in all these types of writing.
adapting your application for different working cultures.
The working cultures in an agency and in-house roles tend to differ, with agencies often requiring all members of staff to have an entrepreneurial spirit and in-house roles tending to be more corporate in structure.
As you progress in an agency role you will be given more responsibility for managing client accounts, as well as your own workload. You will therefore be directly responsible for growing client accounts, as well as potentially sourcing new clients.
You, therefore, might want to think about times that you have demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit and showcase this on your CV or cover letter for an agency role. Positions with a “sales element” such as fundraising or recruitments for a club or society could be excellent examples of this.
The culture that surrounds a client-side role depends on the company that you are applying to, as you are just another employee in that company. Researching the culture around each individual company that you are applying for is therefore vital to your success.
explaining your choices in an interview.
Given that there is such a schism between agency and client-side roles, interviewers for both roles often ask why you have made the decision to go down one career path or the other.
In an agency interview, hiring managers are looking for an appreciation of the fast-paced, varied, and meritocratic environment that exists within many agencies, and a desire to embrace this challenge.
When faced with this question in an agency interview, you should talk about how you believe that working with a diverse range of clients is the best way to improve your ability as a copywriter, and how pressure brings the best out of you. Ideally, you will have examples of past experiences to back up this claim.
Hiring managers for client-side roles want to see an understanding of how you as a copywriter can help grow their specific business. Before an interview for a client-side role, you should research the company’s recent marketing campaigns and product/service developments in a bid to anticipate what markets they will be looking to grow into in the near future and how as a copywriter you can contribute to these goals.
Despite the differences between these, interviewers of both roles look for core competencies such as writing ability, curiosity, teamwork, and ability to take feedback, so make sure that you have examples of all of these ready in your mind in preparation for an interview.
Oli Graham - Marketing Manager for digital copywriting agency RightlyWritten.
He builds and leads the team of writers and creatives for the company.