Sure, all copywriters daydream about being Don Draper and commanding—or even just being a part of—a creative team in a big, hip advertising agency.
But there’s another kind of opportunity you need to know about that offers all the smart coworkers, interesting projects, and, yes, sometimes tough deadlines outside of the traditional ad agency: in-house agencies.
Ad Agency vs. Internal Agency
First, let’s make sure we’re on the same page when it comes to terminology.
Traditional Ad Agency
As you probably know, an advertising agency is a group of creatives (designers and copywriters), account managers, media buyers, production teams, and various other roles. An advertising agency is hired by a company to produce ads for them. The hiring company pays the bills and has the final say on all creative.
Depending on the size of the agency, it could have anywhere from a few to dozens of clients. If it’s a large agency, you’re likely to work on just one account (meaning, do work for only one client), but at smaller agencies you may work on multiple accounts.
You may also hear these referred to as a marketing agency.
Internal Ad Agency
The other type is the “internal agency,” which is also called an “in-house agency.” An internal agency is very much like an ad agency except instead of operating separately from their client, they operate within it and for the company itself.
Internal agencies are the groups of people who work for a company and do the advertising and marketing work for it. Like ad agencies, internal agencies are often comprised of all the same type of people—creatives, account/brand managers, production teams, etc.
Most medium and large companies (and many smaller companies) have some size of in-house agency, which means that there’s a lot of internal agencies out there and a lot of opportunity for a copywriter looking for a job!
Differences Between Ad Agencies and Internal Agencies
Unlike ad agencies, the only client an internal agency has is the company that they work for. However, bear in mind that if a company has several brands within it, you could end up working on several of that company’s brands. For example, when I worked at TJX, they needed creative for their brands, including T.J.Maxx, HomeGoods, and Marshalls. At that company, it was big enough so that each one had its own internal creative team, but some companies with multiple brands have just one internal agency to service those brands.
While external agencies generally work on bigger campaigns (with all media components), TV, and radio, internal agencies are often responsible for the more day-to-day creative like signage, direct mail, banner ads, emails, and websites. But don’t think that that stuff isn’t interesting and ripe for creativity, too!
Benefits of Copywriting for In-House Agencies
Internal agencies present a huge opportunity for you to do great work, build your portfolio, and meet some very talented people. There’s a bit of a feeling that internal agencies are less dynamic, fast-paced, and creative than external agencies…but that’s simply not true. There are some internal agencies doing amazing work (and there are some external ones doing boring work!).
One of the great things about working at an in-house agency is that you get to know your brand incredibly well. In many cases you’ll be responsible for maintaining brand guidelines and often even creating them. People always look to the copywriter for the right way to say things, the right way to refer to things, the right way to capitalize things, etc. If there isn’t a tone and brand guide when you join them, it’s up to you to create it.
You also get to work very closely with the people requesting your work. In an agency environment, this would be the external company that’s hired you. But in an internal agency, this is often people from the Marketing or Brand teams. You both work for the same company so, in many ways, you’re on the same team. You can get together with them to talk through ideas and get their input before you go too far down a path. You get just as much of a sense of camaraderie with your coworkers at an in-house agency as you do at an ad agency.
Challenges of Working at In-House Agencies
At the same time, though, it can be challenging to work so closely with the “client.” Just because you’re on the same team doesn’t mean you always agree. When you work at an external agency, you can have a bad meeting with a client and then go back to your company and the client goes back to theirs. At an internal agency, you can have a bad meeting and you each go back to your desks…just a few feet away.
While there’s a bias in the creative community to think that ad agencies work faster and more creatively than in-house agencies, that’s not true at all. There is a lot of exciting, dynamic work being done at in-house agencies and, yes, sometimes the deadlines are just as tight.
Which One Do You Choose?
I’m sure you’ve heard me say it before, but the best resumes and portfolios have variety. If you have the opportunity to work for an in-house agency, whether on staff or as a contractor, I strongly recommend you give it a shot.
Especially if you’re just starting out, I’d recommend trying to get both agency and internal agency experience under your belt as soon as you can. It will show potential employers that you are comfortable in both settings and you’ll get the chance to see if one or the other is a better fit for you.
Do you have experience in an internal agency? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!
Last Updated on May 10, 2023
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