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How to spot the perils of a (not so) creative agency

2 min, 43 sec read
10:30 AM | 20 October 2014
by Mel Fenson
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When I went for my interview, I was seduced by the beanbags.

They said "cool, creative place to work". And after a year of lonely freelance copywriting, I gave in.

And so my three months in "creative" purgatory began.

I hope you can learn from my mistakes.

Is the staff turnover high? Why?

On week two of my job as an agency copywriter, the office manager called a meeting.

She told us that X had left the company with immediate effect. Four weeks later, another employee went home and didn't return. Just airbrushed out of the office.

Pause for thought: How high is the staff turnover in your company of choice? Watch their "About Us" page; if the faces keep changing, alarm bells should be ringing. It means you'll be working with anxious colleagues, unsure about their prospects at the company. Creative much?

The silent office. Is creativity silent?

Silly me, but I wanted to work in an agency for the ambiance. I'd worked in offices before and I knew that brainstorming and banter is part of the charm.

Not at this agency. It was silent. Where were the lively brainstorming meetings? The creative fizz? The enthusiasm for work? Everyone seemed bored and resentful.

Maybe that was because they worked a 45 hour week, and had to recount to the minute how much time they spent on each client account.

Pause for thought: Is the office silent when you walk in for your interview? There may be free doughnuts in the meeting room, but is everyone weeping into their coffee?

How's your workload? Got time to breathe?

I knew that agency work would be pacey and I'd have to write double time. But there was zero time for letting ideas take shape. Word counts took precedence over style and eventually delivering drab content became the norm.

And when I was finally offered a web page to write? My briefing lasted 6 minutes and the deadline was in two hours.

Unsurprisingly, the copy I delivered was chronic, and my confidence went into free fall.

Pause for thought: Good creative work takes time to develop. If your new company imposes unrealistic deadlines, is it really delivering value to the client? Will you thrive there?

What happened in the end?

The agency insisted that my part-time role transform into a 45 hour week. No questions, no compromise.

So I did what they expected me to do. Left the laptop on the desk and walked out into the sunshine.

I wish I could say I did a happy jig, but in truth I was gutted. I'd started the job as a confident writer, I left it feeling miserable and unsure of my talents.

Pause for thought: Are you REALLY enjoying the job? Are you learning new skills? Being mentored by someone fabulous? Or are you doubting that you have any talent left at all?

If it's the latter, then it's Code Red! Time to move on.

Because, as a creative, you MUST protect your professional confidence. Without it, how will you land your next project/client/slam dunk moment? 


Mel Fenson went on to make a full recovery from her stint in a "creative" agency. Her freelance copywriting business is now thriving. But she still can't look at bean bags without feeling nauseous.

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