Confessions of a Junior Copywriter

This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →

The copywriter has a hallowed history in advertising that stretches back to the dawn of advertising. It’s a field filled with smart, often wickedly funny and cynical souls.  Digiday spoke with a junior copywriter at a large agency, who is starting his climb up the creative ladder and dealing with the harsh realities of unimaginative clients, killed ideas and petty account people. You can read all of the Confessions.

Agencies are often thought of as a place of big egos. Is that the case?
Being a junior copywriter at a big agency is a lot like Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Pit and The Pendulum.” You’re strapped down on an oak table but instead of an oscillating blade, it’s a swinging dick. Sure, there are egos at a big agency that a young junior has to answer to. It’s just that some of those egos can be nurturing to a junior, while others suck the ego out of you and feed it to their own, like Shang Tsung in “Mortal Kombat.” Your soul is mine.

Is life at an agency as you expected?
Nothing can prepare you for dealing with account people. I still have no idea what their job is, other than pretending to be creative directors.

Do you feel like you can do great work, or do clients always kill it?
I do do great work. Every day. But less than 1 percent of that work ever makes it in front of a client, and less than .01 percent of it gets produced. A lot of great work gets killed before it even makes it out of the building. Part of the problem is mid-level creative management. We need more ACDs. When a young junior shows an ECD a dozen scripts or concepts, they get skimmed through like an email from the cable company. Every day I have to take good ideas out back behind the barn and shoot them. We need more ACDs to pay closer attention to the work.

What’s the one thing you’d change about agency life?
More free food.

What’s the most fun part of your job?

What’s the worst?
Account people pretending they’re creative directors.

Who in agencies gets too much credit and too little?
Credit means nothing to me in the advertising industry. We’re not in the business of art; we are the art of business. You’ve never seen an ad with a copywriter’s byline or an art director’s signature at the bottom. Advertising has recently become a masturbatory industry. We’re doing work for ourselves instead of the clients that hired us to sell their products and promote their brands. There’s loads of work these days that is incredibly renowned and respected within the industry, and yet Dick and Jane have never heard of it. Is that doing our jobs? We need to stop making work for ourselves and start making it for consumers again. Who the shit actually uses QR codes?

What’s the most frustrating thing about clients?
Fear. Fear of doing ambitious work. Fear that we know better than they do what’s best for their brand. Fear that we only want do work that will satisfy our own egos as opposed to their balance sheets.

Is the focus on metrics leading to bland work?
It takes a village to make bland work. And a whole lot of village idiots. There’s a lot of people that go into the equation that makes a campaign. To paraphrase the quadratic formula, X equals negative account people plus or minus the square root of creativity squared minus four times clients times focus groups divided by two times the budget. Any one of those variables can make for bland work.

Is there a digital-traditional divide?
Like lines on a map. They’re invisible in the real world, but there are borders, with different people on different sides.

Are big agencies still a draw for young people who want to work in digital?
For a lot of big agencies, digital is still that area on the map that says, “Here there be dragons.” There’s a sense of adventure to explore, but they aren’t prepared for what’s out there.

If you left advertising, what would you be doing?
Working as a private detective in Istanbul.

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