Freelance Journalist, Editor, Copywriter and Author – Dubai

Dubai Ad Agency Copywriting 101

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.

Time management 

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 

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.

Account managers

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.

  • plamena

    I have to admit that I feel as if I am reading a post about how most companies in Cyprus work 🙂
    Most deadlines tend to be for yesterday, Any new urgent task just pushes aside the previous urgent one. Moreover, it is pretty normal to receive a new urgent thing at (or even after) 5:30pm.
    It is interesting to compare different organisation cultures just to find out that somehow negative features are so common. 🙂

    • Andrea

      It doesn’t surprise me that it’s the same in Cyprus 🙂 This is one of the many reasons why I prefer working for myself!

      How are you finding Cyprus?

      • plamena

        Well, my relationship with the island and the lifestyle here used to be a love-hate one 🙂 I guess we are on the right track now. It’s the moment you realise you could be happy anywhere and this is only in your own hands 🙂

        • Andrea

          You are absolutely right – this is a realisation that I’ve also come to over the last year or so! We’re actually thinking of moving back to Cyprus this year, and at first the thought scared me, as all the bad things came to mind. I then realised I’ve had issues with all the places that I’ve lived in and that there’s no perfect place. You just have to make the most of where you are and build a lifestyle that will keep you happy.

          • plamena

            really? Wow, moving back to Cyprus is a big decision I think! But it was the same for me I was always looking at the negative side of the place I lived in until I realised that if I wand I can like all places (countries/cities), even though I used to dislike small places a lot 🙂

          • plamena

            I would be glad to meet you in person if you finally decide to move to CY 🙂

          • Andrea

            Yeah, I used to feel claustrophobic when I lived there last, but I was only 16 🙂 Now I know that whenever I get itchy feet I can travel somewhere nearby. No need to be stuck there all year! Would love to meet you, too! Will definitely let you know when we make it back 🙂

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