This coming week, I’ll be doing something unusual: working in an agency. I’ve not done that since last August.
In the not-too distant past, I nearly always went into agencies. Increasingly though, I and other freelancers are working either remotely – usually from home – or directly to clients on their premises. Even when we’re teamed up with art directors, we’re often remote from them, too, collaborating in the ether, over the phone or via email.
What would Bill Bernbach make of this? As you may know, he’s credited with inventing the modern creative team structure – a copywriter and art director working together in the same room in an agency. Before him, I’ve been told, creatives worked in separate offices. Never mind collaboration. Instead, writers would type their copy on typewriters, and then slip the copy document under their art director’s door. Bernbach believed that creatives would produce better work by talking over a brief and bouncing ideas off each other.
Many art directors and copywriters still work in creative duos. But not necessarily in the same physical office. Now, thanks to technology, the office can be virtual, with creative partners thousands of miles apart in body, but still close as ever in mind. And the creative work we produce this way can be just as good as before.
Some years ago, Ogilvy paired me with Minneapolis-based art director Bryan Michurski. Unfortunately, my broadband was misbehaving at the time, and Skype wouldn’t work properly. So Bryan and I communicated mainly by phone and text messages. Despite the obstacles, we still managed to create five good campaigns – all well received.
During the past year I noticed more of us creatives working directly to clients, often on their premises. I did this myself a couple of times with art director James Ellis, first at Headspace’s offices in Angel, then at News UK (The Times and The Sun’s HQ) in London Bridge. At Headspace, we reported to the head office in Los Angeles. The eight-hour time difference wasn’t a problem. Thanks to video conferencing and email, it was easy to work that way.
More and more, my home is my office. Here I write copy for agencies and clients, sometimes never seeing the people I’m working for and with.
It’s surprising what you can get done working this way. I recently had to write about 50,000 words of content and source dozens of images and videos for 45 articles to go on a microsite. The deadline was tight so I needed to be focused.
For 30 days in a row, my dining table was my desk. It was good that I didn’t have to commute to an agency every day and waste valuable hours. It was even better being able to work in the quiet of my home, where I could concentrate – essential when writing copy. Only by working this way could I deliver all that content by the agreed deadline.
One of my most unusual arrangements is with a design agency outside London. The creative director there got in touch with me via email over a year ago. Since then I must have completed a dozen projects for him. Yet we’ve never met in person, or seen each other online, or even spoken on the phone. He just emails me a brief, I work on it and then send my copy to him. Everybody’s happy. It’s a bit like pre-Bernbach times, with copywriters slipping their copy under the art director’s door, except now that happens via email.
After all the time I’ve spent working from home, it will be strange this week, going back to work in an agency.