Approaching Agencies for Freelance Work

How To Hustle For Paid Work

Foot In The Door
Foot In The Door. Getty Images

So, you're a talented copywriter, art director, or designer. You've assembled a solid body of work, have an online portfolio (this is a must), and you're raring to go. 

There's only one problem. You don't have any clients. 

There are several options available to you. The first is to go directly to clients, and build relationships that will lead to a steady stream of income. However, the problem is that most medium to large businesses already have advertising agencies, and won't look at you as an option.

Small businesses may not have any kind of agency of record, but they will also not have many big projects either. And the work will come in sporadically. 

The other option open to you is to approach advertising and design agencies. They have already done the hard work of assembling a client roster. You don't have to break your back trying to build those relationships. BUT, you do have to convince the agency that you are a dependable freelancer who can be counted on whenever they need extra help. 

If this sounds like something for you, here are a few ways to get started. 

Create Self-Promotion Materials

They say self-promotion is one of the most difficult things to do in advertising, and they're right. You don't want to come across as cocky. You also don't want to seem desperate (never feed a hungry dog). Here are some steps to take:

Create an information packet that details your previous work, your freelance rates, your writing samples and policies.

Mailing this will cost more than a first class stamp so only mail your information packet to serious prospects. You can determine who a serious prospect is by sending out a small card asking if they would like to receive your information packet. If they do, they just check a little box and return the card in the mail to you.

If your own advertising budget can handle it, you could send your information packet through first class mail. You would include everything - along with a cover letter addressed to the Creative Director by name.

You could just send a cover letter through the mail introducing yourself and then telling the Creative Director they can request your complete information packet either by calling or Emailing you. Or you could include a small response card like in option number one. This is just a simple card they fill out with their name and address and drop in the mail. You get the card back (or a phone call/Email) and then you send them your complete information packet. Since your costs associated with your information packet include the paper, the ink, the time you put into it and the postage, you may want to hold your information packet until someone requests it. This can keep your startup costs down significantly.

Take The Initiative

One more thing to consider is to do like agencies and marketing firms do. Try testing your materials.

Let's say you have 50 agencies you're interested in contacting. Take 10 and send them your entire information packet. Take another 10 and send them a cover letter only with info on how they can request your packet.

Take another 10 and simply send them a small card through the mail that briefly introduces yourself and tells them how they can request your packet.

Out of those 30 agencies, you want to write down what you sent to which agency. If you get hits off of the cover letter you sent but didn't get any hits off of the other two methods, then send your cover letter to the remaining agencies on your list.

What you're doing is simply testing your own materials to see who's responding off of which ones. This is what the big dogs do in the industry for their national clients. Whatever works, go with it.

Just look to make sure the agencies don't handle something that's way off your scope. For instance, an agency that only handles aeronautical clients will probably have some high tech writers to write the copy.

If you have no experience in that area, you may want to hold off on sending them your materials. If that agency handles a wide variety of clients, though, that's great.

You want to approach the agencies that interest you the most as opposed to sending out your materials to a broad audience. You can always make two lists, one of the agencies you would love to write for and a secondary list of agencies you'll contact if your first choices don't respond. This gives you some flexibility with your own advertising budget too so you're not tapped as you begin.

Think Small

Don't be afraid to look for smaller agencies in your vicinity as well. Smaller agencies generally don't have copywriters on staff so you can be an easy way for them to have a regular copywriter on hand without having to make you a full-time employee with all of the benefits they would have to pay you otherwise.

You can find agency prospects by using The Standard Directory of Advertising Agencies. This guide to agencies, contact names, clients they handle and money they bring in is updated quarterly.

Be sure you're checking the current edition. Your local library should have a copy in the reference section. Unfortunately, this book costs more than $1,000 so buying a copy for yourself is probably out of the question.

If your library doesn't have a copy of this guide, you can always call the agency and ask who their Creative Director is. If you want to make sure the name you have on your list is still the Creative Director, just ask if he/she is still the Creative Director.

Thank the person that answers the phone and end the call. You don't want to be transferred to the Creative Director - they are very busy people and won't appreciate the cold call.

Interrupting a CD in the middle of a major ad campaign isn't a good way to make a first impression. Sending your materials and letting CDs read them on their own terms is a much better way to introduce yourself.