I Hear Voices: Writing For a Brand Vs. Agency

By Beth Demmon

Writing is writing, right?


I thought it was too – in fact, I was sure of it! That’s why when I recently left my copywriting and marketing job at a successful décor brand to manage content at Thunder, I figured it would be a pretty straightforward transition, and it kiiind of was. Only not.

Brand writing to agency writing is like a mini horse to a Great Dane – if you squint, they sort of look similar, but as you get closer you realize that they aren’t the same animal at all.

Image: Erin Campbell

When you create content for a brand, you’re dealing with a single vision. There’s generally one product (or type of product) that you write about, giving you ample (but not endless) time to become intimately familiar with what you’re trying to sell. P.S., if you think that you’re not a salesperson, think again. Every blog, every product description, every press release that you carefully create is for one purpose and one purpose only – sales.

I was a pretty good totally radical brand writer not just because I happen to be a grammar nerd who has a strong grasp of the English language (although admittedly, that is key). After working there for a few years, I knew the product inside and out, backwards and forwards, to the point where the product specs were second nature to me.

A huge advantage I had in getting to know the brand’s products is that I started as a customer service rep and worked my way up to sales and ultimately marketing as the sole copywriter. My experience interacting with the products on multiple levels lent me a cohesive view that took years to cultivate. Unsurprisingly, that luxury of time disappears quickly at an agency.

Besides time, the most immediate difference that has struck me in my 3 weeks at Thunder has to be “The Voices”.

I Hear Voices in My Head | Meme Crunch
Image: Meme Crunch

Oh yes, the voices.

I guess a better word for “The Voices” would be campaigns, but roll with me. Agencies don’t have just one voice slash campaign (unless something weird is happening, but that’s another story). When you create content in an agency setting, you’re working on a variety of campaigns that are ever changing and could range from pharmaceutical copywriting to blogging about home décor. Getting intimately familiar with each campaign simply isn’t an option due to time, and also the fact that most people who aren’t members of Mensa usually can’t instantly retain every single bit of information about every client.

That being said, writing for an agency is exciting! Sure, you still run into writer’s block occasionally, but when you have ten different campaigns to write to, that’s ten different points of view that you get to explore. It’s a challenge, sure, but personally I like to think it keeps my mind sharp. After all, there are only so many ways you can describe one thing over and over again without getting just the tiniest bit redundant; thus, the challenge of brand writing.

If you’re considering a switch from a brand to an agency, there are definitely some tips to help you branch out your thinking. If you’re considering a switch from an agency to a brand, you guessed it – there are some more tips to help you channel your focus!

Writing for an agency

Don’t be shy.

Work with AEs right away to familiarize yourself with each client and the technical aspects of each campaign. Frank wrote an excellent post about smooth internal campaign transition, which hits the nail on the head – see what has been done, what needs to be done, and dive in headfirst.

You’re only as strong as your organizational skills.

Even if you’re an amazing writer, you better have the right content in the right place at the right time or it won’t matter if you’re Shakespeare.

Embrace the Voices.

Relish in the challenge of writing in multiple voices! Make sure you stay aware of campaign theme overlap to stay unique and relevant.

Ask how they do things internally.

Does the agency use Basecamp? Share documents on Google Drive? Who identifies and shares all of the basic campaign information like logins, links, etc.? Find out the who, when, where, and how, then brush up on the tools they use. Early preparation = quicker assimilation.

Star Trek Borg | Memory Alpha
Image: Memory Alpha

No, not that kind of assimilation.

Writing for a brand

Use time wisely.

You have time, but not endless time to get to know the product. It’s more of a “you’ll be surprised what detail you uncover years down the road”, but the basics are essential right away.

You reap what you sow.

If you keep your graphic design team waiting for packaging copy, they may not think to give you a heads up when a new product is being developed. Be a team player.

Stay plugged in.

Still take advantage of industry events, especially if you’re the sole content person. It’s easy to fall out of the loop otherwise.

Be prepared to wear a lot of hats.

This is especially true if you’re moving to a small brand. Anything extra that you can bring to the table (writing for SEO, social media, etc.) is going to be invaluable.

Getting to write for a living is a pretty awesome gig, no matter if you’re at a brand or agency. With these tips, I hope your transition from one to the other is as painless as possible!

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