Working in a big company

I spent some time contracting in a large company that wasn’t really geared to having copywriters working in-house. Previously they’d farmed all the work out to agencies; I was the only copywriter in the whole of the business.

If you’re used to freelancing, or working with lots of other ‘creative types’ in an agency, going into a company like this can be a real challenge. The people there probably aren’t used to working directly with copywriters. They’re probably all technical people, or accountants, or engineers – or experts in whatever the company does. They’re not writers.

I’ve done it. To anyone in a similar position, here’s the advice I’d offer:

Get stuck in at the start. You’ve probably been brought in to write about the company’s products or services. So you need to learn as much as you can. Talk to people. Get to know them; get to know what the company stands for. And maybe most importantly, make sure people know who you are, so when you (inevitably) have to ask their help, they don’t mind.

Get the training. Assuming you’re a competent writer, you should be able to get up to speed and ‘on brand’ pretty quickly. But make sure you get all the documents and training you can. Don’t forget to check you have the latest information. It’s not unusual for old style guides to float around on company intranets for years.

Find some space, but don’t cut yourself off. Once you’ve established yourself in the office a bit and know you’re on the right track, back off a little. I work best at home, at my desk, with my music playing and few distractions. An open plan office and all the associated noise is not a good working environment. Maybe you can work in a meeting room for a few hours each day. Or perhaps you can negotiate two or three days a week at home. Either way, it’s better for you, and better the company you’re working in. At the very least, load your iPod up and get some good headphones.

Get answers early. Not sure whether your style’s right? Spend the time finding out who the best person to give you feedback is rather than writing more stuff. It’ll save you effort in the long-term.

Make sure you’re on the right lines. Nobody’s perfect, so nobody at the company will expect you to know everything straight away. Make sure you’re going in the right direction by asking the right preople. And remember that in modern corporations – especially big ones – bureacracy is king, and whoever shouts loudest often wins. So to get answers, brush up your diplomatic skills and be ready to raise your voice.

Get used to talking figures. I’m a copywriter. I hate my creativity being measured in raw numbers. But that’s what big companies do. Everything’s measured, checked, timed or calculated. You’ll be expected to produce a certain number of articles each day, week or month, regardless of the relative complexities, other demands on your time or anything else. So get used to it. When someone asks “how many articles have we finished?”, make sure you know the answer. Or at least sound like you do.

Get comfortable with bureaucracy. If you don’t have access to the right folders on your computer then be prepared for a long wait. Getting your copy signed off will probably be tortuous. So do whatever you can to speed things up, but don’t let it get to you. It’s just the way things are. Given time, you can probably learn some shortcuts, but you’re never going to tame the beast completely.

Remember that you’re the expert. In a team of non-creatives, you’re the expert on how to produce good copy. If you’ve proved yourself competent then people will listen, so don’t be afraid to say what you think.

Finally, remember that working in a big company can be real fun. You’ll meet lots of people – most of them dead clever. You’ll be in a nice office, and maybe even enjoy some perks. And (this is the bit I really enjoy) as a copywriter in a team of techies, you’ll be a novelty. Enjoy it while it lasts.

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