Remember the Wizard of Oz?
I’ll always remember that creepy, disembodied head surrounded by pillars of FIRE.
That wizard was SCARY, man.
And Dorothy went up to that dude and asked for a favor like it was no big deal.
Sure, half the room was on fire and the wizard’s temple veins looked like they’d explode at any second, leaving everyone covered in wizard-brain-goo.
But whatever, man. Someone needed to get her home, right?
The interesting part to me, was what happened when she got a peek behind the curtain.
That little old man was working feverishly to keep the machinery running, and it instantly changed her perspective.
Before the howling winds of extended metaphor carry me away, let me clarify:
I had a Dorothy moment recently.
Like her, I’m a pretty ambitious, pretty mouthy chick.
I would often go to my boss, the company’s Copy Chief, with endless requests and idea pitches, and I’d even leaned on him for inspiration from time to time when I got stuck.
But last month, he went on a much-deserved vacation.
And he left me in charge (I suspect as payback for so graciously handling all my demands?).
Suddenly the curtain was pulled back and it was up to ME to keep the machinery running.
Thankfully, nothing imploded when he was gone. And I was so happy when he returned that I bought him a bottle of wine to celebrate.
But that struggle taught me a few things and really opened my eyes to the background operations of a corporate copy gig.
Today I hope to give you a glimpse – a tiny peek into the world of retail copywriting.
Aspiring full-timers and freelancers looking to connect with corporate clients – here are my top 5 takeaways from my time as Temporary (Retail) Copy Chief:
- The ego has got to go.
When you’re the copywriter, you get to spend a lot of your time dreaming of big possibilities, big hooks, big ideas. You get to challenge comfort zones and shake up the status quo.
But when you’re making decisions on behalf of the business, risk becomes a much higher factor. It’s less about what I think will work creatively and more about how the creative fits within the bigger picture.
That said – NEVER stop dreaming of the big idea.
Without that fresh, creative input, things just wouldn’t grow and get better.
But know that if an idea doesn’t gain traction, it’s typically not personal. No one behind the scenes is judging YOU on your idea (unless they’re just an asshole to begin with). They’re simply trying to make decisions for the good of the biz.
- The team is everything.
My days were SO stacked with projects and edits and approvals that at night I got home and crashed shortly after dinner.
The most challenging part was not having time to connect with my team, to explain and clarify. I needed them to pick up what I put down. And then, I needed them to run with it.
For you, this means that getting hired isn’t as much about technical skill and wordly prowess as it is about relationships and your own personal drive.
If you are good at knowing which questions to ask and when to ask them, digging up information when you need to, and self-editing, you’re already ahead of the curve.
In a nutshell, don’t ask me (or your future contact) for the answer to a question you could figure out yourself with a little digging.
Come to the party prepared to do killer work, and let people know you’re someone that can be counted on. I know that’s what I’ll be doing.
- Other copywriters aren’t competition.
Talented, dependable freelancers can bail your ass out when you’re swamped.
Without freelance help (and the hard work of my team), I don’t know that I ever would have been able to leave the office.
This is counter-intuitive to most modern-day business wisdom, but it can be your secret weapon.
By connecting with other copywriters (rather than competing), you’ve got someone you can refer work to when you’re swamped, a nice source of referral business, a person to ask advice, and even someone who can support you when you’re in a jam.
- Set (and get) clear expectations.
To me, this seems like it should be common knowledge and even common sense.
But you’d be surprised how many are comfortable assuming everyone’s on the same page (with 10 different perspectives of what “same page” means) rather than making sure.
Find out who the decision makers and stakeholders are. Figure out objectives and challenges, pitch the idea, set deadlines, and define deliverables. Do it in writing, and FOLLOW UP.
Confusion is the enemy of success.
- Protect your head and control your time.
I wouldn’t have been able to do my work if I hadn’t set very clear boundaries.
I put a tri-fold screen at the entrance of my cubicle. On it, I hung a sign warning people that I had on headphones and did not wish to be disturbed unless it was something that needed immediate attention.
I designated a filing cabinet outside my cube as the area to drop off projects that weren’t super hot. From time to time I’d open up my “door”, grab the mountain of projects, and start plowing through them.
I didn’t feel bad about tuning people out during that time, because I simply needed to get both my work and my boss’s work done.
It turns out the project coordinators were grateful too – they didn’t have to interrupt my flow or ask me questions. They could email me and know that when I came up for air, they’d have their answers.
It was a much easier way to work than being available to everyone whenever they needed me, at the expense of my work.
So now that you’ve had a peek behind the curtain, has your perspective changed?
How will this info help you further advance your career goals?