Having worked as a freelance copywriter at various ad agencies in Dubai, I decided it is my duty to write a quick manual on what to expect should you find yourself about to start working in one.
Briefs are comprehensive documents with many questions such as ‘what would the client like to achieve with this messaging?’ and ‘what tone of voice is required?’ The only people who actually take these seriously are the copywriters, though. I think that client services believe that these are a frivolous waste of their precious time, and fill them in with things like ‘powerful copy’ and ‘engaging tone’ just to piss you off. Your job as a copywriter is to try and infer from this information what it is that the client actually wants, and magically turn their two-word wishes into sentences that ‘sparkle’ off the page.
Note: most sections are always left blank.
Without fail, every client services-type person likes to answer ‘yesterday’ when you ask him/her what the deadline is. They supplement this with a cheeky laugh, as if this will make their highly unoriginal joke hilarious.
You rarely have longer than a few hours in which to ‘whip something magical up’ in. And they then question why the copy is ‘good’ but not ‘brilliant.’ You’re not just a copywriter; you’re a miracle worker, dammit. In fact, put that on your CV.
When something is urgent, it’s urgent, okay? That means you drop any other work that you have at that moment in time (including the other items that were once deemed as urgent) and you concentrate all your efforts on this last-minute (is there any other kind?) client brief that’s come in. There’s no room for deadline extensions.
Unless, of course, another more urgent client brief comes in.
Office hours in a Dubai ad agency are as pointless as glasses on a man with no ears. More accurately, closing hours are. If you get up to leave at what is supposed to be the right time, you will be met by stares and weird looks as if you have just stripped naked and mooned the boss. In short, the later you stay, the more busy and dedicated you look; this is in contrast with the rest of the world, where if you regularly work late your boss thinks you’re a good for nothing baboon who cannot organise his/her time.
Staying late to work on a client brief that could have been given to you first thing in the morning (but was withheld until 5:30pm) is fine. Coming in late the next morning to compensate for the extra four hours that you were in the office the previous evening is not.
Even when you have your headphones on and you’re clearly deep in thought, trying to come up with the ‘brilliant, magical copy’ that will transform the world into a glittering disco ball, account managers still like to sneak up on you while pretending that they give a damn that they’re about to interrupt your train of thought.
“Are you busy?” they’ll ask coyly while clutching A3 final proofs that clearly need to be read by you.
What you really want to say is:
“No, I’m just sat here writing out sentences because I like how smoothly my pen glides on paper.”
But what you actually say is:
“No, it’s okay. What’s up?”
Then they dump a 200 page annual report that needs to be proofread ‘now’ on you. You consider running out and never coming back.