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Does Your Freelance Copywriter Need a Big One?

This is a
3 minute read.

Let’s face it – a big one makes it easier for everyone involved.

It can provide a handy shortcut for decision makers on whether they want to start a relationship or not. If you know that other people are satisfied, you can be more confident than ever that your freelance copywriter will satisfy you too.

But a big brand just isn’t the be all and end all. Size isn’t everything.

So why are so many copywriters eager to pull out their brands and measure them side by side?

Too Much Disclosure

I recently read a great post on Alastaire Allday’s blog, titled NDA Not OK: Are NDAs Harming Your Freelance Reputation?.

Alastaire makes the simple point that sometimes, not being able to tell people about your biggest brand-name clients is just not worth the financial gain. Every job is a stepping-stone to the next project.

The truth is that I don’t have much to add. NDAs are not ideal, but I try to recoup the value of lost marketing potential in financial terms. That makes it fair for everyone – the agency or company in question get secrecy, and I increase my revenue.

But what I found most interesting is the way in which copywriters use brands as an indicator of work. One of Alastaire’s friends, working in a full-time copywriting role for an agency, took objection to the idea that he did the same as a freelance copywriter. He laughed at the notion of writing copy for anything less than a multinational household name. He had this idea that the work he did was more worthwhile.

Quite simply, he was wrong.

A Tale of Two Copywriters

Let’s look at a case study.

Copywriter A is working at an agency full-time, dealing with household names that even your gran would recognise. Meanwhile, Copywriter B is freelance, occasionally working with big brands through agency deals, but mostly helping lesser-known businesses to communicate with their customers and, ultimately, sell things.

Copywriter A can talk about brands with no non-disclosure agreement. So he does.

If anything, he’s irritating with it, constantly going on about Fortune 500 companies and how he is in-tune with multinational brand identities. Of course, they’re brand identities that have been well-established by now.

Copywriter B, on the other hand, can’t talk about brands. He can’t name drop. All he can do is talk about businesses you’ve never heard of, where the name won’t convince you of anything.

He can’t depend on the size of what he has.

He just depends on the work he has done.

It’s What You Do With It That Counts

This business is all about the work. Big name brands put out terrible work all the time – but I bet those copywriters and creative directors involved still leap at the chance to drop a name into every conversation.

The NDAs that I have signed prevent me from doing that. So instead, when you browse my portfolio or contact me to discuss your project, I do less telling, more showing.

You can forget who the work is for, and just look at the work itself.

Don’t get me wrong – I would love to do the next Apple campaign or hear the stylish voice over I’ve written going out on a prime-time TV advert slot. But if those opportunities came my way, my priority would stay the same – work that’s good, whoever it is written for.

Small or big doesn’t matter. All I care about is that it’s perfectly formed.



  1. Copycat

    Sorry bub, you’re dead wrong. It’s not that agency copywriters get to work on bigger accounts (although they do). It’s that freelance copywriters never get the experience of bedding into an account and getting to work with the full range of smart people, for an extended period of time, that entails.

    As a freelancer you’re getting the small picture, you’re basically putting the shine on the client’s idea most of the time. In an agency you’re the start of the conveyor belt, and you get to watch all the machinery of an agency move making your work a reality.

    It’s not the quality of the work that sets agency writers apart from freelancers. It’s their access to scope and freedom. Two things the freelancer rarely has.

    I should know – I’ve been in both pairs of shoes.

    1. Stephen

      Thanks for the comments Copycat. It’s interesting to hear from somebody on the other side of things, although I’d tell any copywriter who only put the shine on other people’s ideas that they were probably doing it wrong!

      I should also say, to be doubly clear, I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m arguing that agency copywriters somehow do less, or don’t do good work. I’m just saying that if you’re comparing copywriters, it is only the work that matters – not the association with an existing and recognised brand.

  2. Alastaire Allday

    Thanks for the kind words. Us copywriters are definitely always “measuring up”.

    Trouble is, it’s not only the other copywriters who are measuring you. Sometimes, it’s also the clients. I have had cases where I have only been able to get my foot in the door where I was able to say “I worked for Brand XXXXXX” even though all I did for them was a few banner ads and a strapline. I’d done a much more relevant, much better entire website for a small but similar company – but the client wasn’t interested in what. Only who.

    Seems like everybody wants to be “big”. Pass the sildenafil citrate…

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