Jun 23, 2023

The freelance copywriting gig from hell.

Some freelance copywriting jobs can be dreadful.

As a freelance copywriter, you have to embrace uncertainty.

Not knowing who you will work next is both exciting and unnerving.

On the one hand, you hope for someone who’s a joy, pays you on time and hires you again because you’ve produced lovely work.

On the other hand, there’s the fear of working with someone who doesn’t give a shit like a slap-dash decorator who wants to get paid in cash and is in a hurry to get home to watch a football match.

These situations are rare but there are lessons to be learned from such an experience.

Many moons ago an art director friend of mine got me a freelance copywriting gig at an agency I had never heard of before.

She did warn me it wasn’t the sort of place we were used to.

The creative department - if you could call it that - was in a one-windowed dungeon that consisted of rows of bleary-eyed disgruntled workers staring at screens.

Large fans wafted their disgruntlement everywhere.

Disjointed briefs were constantly thrown at the creatives by inexperienced suits who thought that barking orders at the creatives was normal.

It was normal because they in turn were barked at by their superiors, who in turn were barked at by the boss.

The boss was a diminutive bellicose character. Mr Short-Arse With Attitude.

The personality of a company always starts from the top. And he was clearly in control.

Control of the underlings was everywhere.

One morning my friend and I went to one of the kitchens to make tea. A stroppy woman, who never introduced herself, chastised us for using the wrong kitchen and that we shouldn’t be using ‘their’ tea and ‘their’ milk.

The next day the kitchen was locked.

It seemed that learning how to control started at an early age.

A very young petite account woman who had been in the business a mere six weeks ordered me to make some copy amends.

They made no sense to me. I declined and suggested another way. She wasn't happy. The look on her face gave the impression she was going to be shot at dawn.

Her despair turned into exasperation. She took exception to my stance and complained to the management that I was belligerent. I got a ticking off.

Fucking cheek. Being told off by a twelve-year-old.

There was a constant battle against fear and inexperience, perhaps the worst combination in business.

Some creatives were beaten into submission.

One art director had thrown in the towel years ago. He admitted he thought he wasn’t good enough to work for a creative agency.

I found his defeatist tone desperately sad. People blossom in the right environment. Admittedly, this wasn’t it. He simply hadn’t found his true home.

He had gone there to die.

I felt I was about to die there too. Thankfully, I managed to escape after a couple of weeks though I suspect I wasn’t asked back on account of my apparent belligerence.

The work I produced was very much like today’s advertising: prescriptive and predictable. It made me wonder what the client was paying for.

Like a date that had gone horribly wrong, I had no fond memories of the episode.

But what I remember most about my time there was what Mr Short-Arse With Attitude once said.

He was overheard shouting down a corridor to one of his account directors ‘The client likes crap, so the crapper the better.

Maybe he had thrown the towel in himself too, or maybe he was being practical because it was all about the money.

I can’t think or work like that.

This is most probably why Mr Short-Arse With Attitude was driving a Ferrari, and I wasn’t.