To Agency Or Not To Agency – That Is The Question

Wouldn’t you prefer to hire an agency copywriter – with a large portfolio, with big name clients – if you were a business?  Wouldn’t that person have a better chance to succeed as an independent?

Well, it’s not so simple as just coming from an agency – with a large portfolio, along with big name businesses – then showing them to clients. I remember coming across this copywriter website, a few months back. This copywriter had a business catering to small businesses, and used to work for agencies. In fact, she had tons of clips to prove what she can do – big names to boot. Yet she shared a story on her website. When she went into business for herself, as a copywriter, she failed miserably. She didn’t understand the nature of business, which she attributes to her failure. I think her new endeavor helping entrepreneurs succeed is apparently quite successful.

The person is Jennifer McCay. A little bit of digging found this at “…while she owned and operated Avenue East Communications, a small business marketing firm. Jennifer shut down Avenue East in 2008 (all info products, including The High-Concept Brand Bible, will be supported for 1 full year after purchase) and is opening a nutrition and life balance coaching business, Body Soul Balance Coaching, in early 2009.” Maybe that’s not a bad choice, given folks like Richard Simmons.  Now if she still operated the Avenue East Communications website, I would show you her story – in her own words. But if you doubt her ability to write copy, look at her own book copy at

Didn’t Bob Bly work for an ad agency?

When I think about it, I don’t believe that Bob Bly ever worked for an agency – not mentioned in any Bly book I read.  In fact, if I go to his website at, I don’t see him mention the word “agency” in his biography. But I do see him mention the word “direct marketing”. It seems it’s the common thread there. Yet if we look at independents like Steve Slaunwhite, he never worked “directly” for an agency. But he did work as an independent for both agencies and clients – something many people here probably do.  What’s the difference between an agency employee and a freelancer, hired by an agency?  As we heard from a senior agency copywriter – not much.

There are other factors besides writing. Understanding why people do what they do (I.E. – what motivates them, how to hit their hot buttons, etc.). Disciplines like psychology, social psychology, etc., can aid one in understanding it. In fact, just making observations can go a long way. Dan Kennedy mentioned recently he never had an original idea. He just observes other successes and transposes them. Recently he noticed a pattern in collection agencies, which send out three notices (the last one is the final one). So he adapted the same principles to real estate or dentistry, with great success.

If he were alive today, I would bet Socrates of ancient Greece, would make a terrific copywriter (there’s a great article at…). He could ask the right questions, was a brilliant student of human nature, was able to turn around the questions and bring the subject to agree with his conclusions, etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if Socrates would join the million plus royalty group early.

But the true answer would come from hard, statistical data – either by accurate survey methodologies – or reliable and accurate market research. Yet this question lacks “a bottom line motivator”, so I’m not sure if the data exists or not.

Many copywriter and marketers get their money by writing books

I don’t think people write books to make money. Actually, the reality is this: many writers struggle to make a living. I know, because I have talked to many writers at writer’s conventions. Most don’t become Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. If copywriters/marketers write books, it could be to increase name recognition. People might think something like this: “That Bob Bly…Peter Bowerman…Dan Kennedy…Ben Hart…must be pretty good, from what they say in their books…I might hire them to work for me…or better yet, speak at my convention for XXX thousand speaker’s fee.”

The other thing to note is that folks like Dan Kennedy, Clayton Makepeace, and Ben Hart talk exclusively about direct marketing principles, and studying the great direct marketing masters of antiquity. Whether we make the big time – or just end up making a good living – studying direct marketing and the masters of antiquity, makes sense to me. Ben Hart recommends spending 2 hours a day, just to enhance your marketing education.

Recently I started following the blog of copywriter Michael Fortin. He told a story recently about copywriter John Carlton, which I found interesting. John worked as a graphic designer for an agency, and needed to obtain something from a copywriter, that worked there. The copywriter gave the item to John, yet make a snide remark to this effect: “John should stick to graphic design, as he will never be a copywriter.” This affected John profoundly, and he was determined to become a pro-writer – which he did.

I think we need to just keep perfecting the craft – study direct marketing principles and the masters of antiquity – but throw in some serendipity and spirituality into the mix (I.E. – if you believe in it: for some it’s prayer – for others it’s “the Secret” – still others it’s folks like Joel Osteen, Norman Vincent Peale, Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, Mary Baker Eddy, etc.). It’s something that Peter Bowerman indirectly – yet briefly – hints at in his books.

So how do you succeed in the freelancing world?

Let’s go back to the Jennifer McCay story. Actually, if we examine her copy, we can all agree she has talent. She did work at an agency for big accounts like Adobe. Personally I have utilized her free stuff a while back, when she ran the business for entrepreneurs. So if a person has the talent of Jennifer (or hooks up with Taproot, for the long hall), what could she have done to learn the business side of freelancing?

1. As I mentioned before, books by Steve Slaunwhite, Lucy V. Parker, Kelly James-Enger, and Peter Bowerman are indispensable. Get a yellow highlighter and start marking them up.

2. If you can, take the half-day small business start-up course from the Latter Day Saints. I took mine at the L.D.S. Employment Resources (I.E. – Naperville, Illinois). More locations are found at….

3. One of the best training programs for small business is Core Four at I took mine at the Jewish Vocational Services in Chicago (, and it only cost $50 for the workbook.

4. My Own Business has an excellent, free online course at The audio and video presentations are great.

5. I can’t say enough about the small business Development Center Network at You just plug in your zip code and it gives you many resources. After filling out a request for counseling, you can visit in person, or by phone. I utilize four different ones, in a 20-mile radius.

6. S.C.O.R.E. at is a “mixed bag”. I have talked to others who have gone through SCORE. They have good training programs at low cost, but counseling depends upon the luck of the draw. Yet they are a resource to look into.

I do think Jennifer will find her calling in her new business entitled Body Soul Balance Counseling, and can utilize her copywriting and marketing skills there.

Randy Kemp



2 thoughts on “To Agency Or Not To Agency – That Is The Question

  1. I found out something interesting today, regarding the small business development network, mentioned in the previous post. Even though each center is run by one person, they have folks on staff, with different specialties. Once you fill out a request for counseling form, you can consult anytime you wish. The advantage of being registered with four centers, is that you increase the probability of obtaining someone with a particular specialty, you wish to consult.

    If I had to start over at day one, this is what I would do (in this order):

    1. Take an L.D.S. small business class.

    2. Read the writing business books by Steve Slaunwhite, Peter Bowerman, Lucy V. Parker, and Kelly James-Enger

    3. Take the Core Four training at some place that offered it free, or low cost (I.E. – J.V.S.)

    4. Register with Taproot.

    5. Register with small business development centers near my zip code, and have an introductory session, to see what they have to offer.

  2. I have an interesting experience with comments. Some person or persons keep sending comments in Russian. You can use tools like Google Translate, to translate the web page or comments, into English. However, since the blog post is in English, I would appreciate it if the poster could make their comments in English. I would also appreciate it if the poster could say a few words in English, regarding the website listed in the comment. Otherwise, I need to treat the comments as Spam, and delete them.

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