What's a reasonable part-time schedule for an advertising copywriter?
April 27, 2015 4:53 PM   Subscribe

I'm an advertising copywriter and new mom, currently out on maternity leave and coming to the conclusion that going back to work full time will break my heart. Before my leave started, some higher ups at my agency mentioned that they would be open to me working part time (if the alternative was me quitting). Great! But...how would this work, exactly? Looking for suggestions to make part-time make sense in a creative department. If you work in advertising I would especially value your input.

Luckily my agency isn't one with crazy hours--most people are gone by 6pm, barring the occasional last-minute presentation prep. So in that sense it's already more family-friendly than most. Also, my creative director is very sensitive to issues affecting women in creative departments and would go to bat for me to make a part-time situation work. I just need to come up with my ideal scenario and put it out there. But I'm unsure what that would be.

I'd love to work, say, 3 days a week. But my work is project based and somewhat unpredictable--we live by the whims of client feedback. It's also the kind of work where someone else can't just step in to cover me. And the timelines for these projects will likely not care if I'm only available 3 days a week. Would I end up working on my off days? Would it make more sense to propose 3 weeks on, 1 week off? (And would that be a nightmare with planning for childcare?) Could I have one day a week that I'm absolutely not available, then work from home 2 other days? Other ideas I haven't thought of?

It's difficult because no one else has a flexible schedule like this so I've got no model to copy. Halp?
posted by apostrophe to Work & Money (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Would working a half-day every day be an option? I work part-time in an unpredictable environment with lots of moving parts, and my hours have been changing for various reasons. I have found that being in the office every day, even if not full days, helps me stay on top of projects, while working every other day means that I have to put a fair amount of energy catching up every morning and I always feel like I'm behind. Part of my job involves writing projects that generally take multiple days, and I find it's hard to keep my momentum going if there are too many days away in between my working on them.
posted by jaguar at 5:14 PM on April 27, 2015

Best answer: My favorite work schedule was to be in the office every morning plus one "secret" afternoon. i went in early (husband took care of getting the little one to day care) and then I left at lunch time. I absolutely had to leave to pick up my kid. In a pinch, I could work from home later in the day (not good but possible) but I was really firm about leaving at lunch time. The one afternoon a week was my secret weapon- no one expected me in then and so I could get caught up on paperwork. (It wasn't actually a secret but people were so used to me just being there in the morning, they would forget that I was also around this one afternoon.) This also let me get up to 30 hours a week (7:30-12:30 4 days, 7:30-6:00 with 30 min lunch day 5).

A predictable, easy to remember schedule will help others feel like they can count on you. I liked afternoons off because almost anything that happened could wait until the next morning but not for another day or two. Staff knew they could call me at home but my first response was always "Can it wait until I can look at at 7:30 am tomorrow?"

The other part of this is that you absolutely have to smart about which and how many projects you take on. Assuming you work in an office where everyone has multiple projects going, the way you manage a client (and say "No" or "Later") is the same whether you have to say because you have another client's project or a toddler to take care of. You can't do a full-time load in part-time hours but people will keep asking you to do more until you have responsibility for your own schedule and say "no".
posted by metahawk at 5:39 PM on April 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I recently worked part-time in a creative capacity similar to what you're thinking of. My structure was this:

- 10-15 hrs a week expected at a set hourly rate, working from home.
- If we were approaching 15 hrs. a week, I'd send an alert and let them know if I would be available for more work that week. The understanding was that I'd not necessarily be available.
- In-person meetings were an extra set amount of dollars per visit.
- I'd work on set, specific projects, usually 1-3 small ones at a time. You're right that feedback would come fast and furious and unpredictably, but that just meant for me that maybe I'd work 5 hours one day then 2 hours the next two days, then be free the rest of the week.

I wonder if it's possible for you to work all the hours from home. Would that be open for discussion? I think working from home and coming in for key meetings or once-a-week lunches or something is beneficial in this way:

- You're viewed more as a consultant, not an employee. The expectations are different. You're more allowed to say no to going over your allotted hours.
- You can be more comfortable saying "The timeline for this project will be..." instead of "When is this needed? Yes, jumping right on it!"
- There is more flexibility in when you do your work.
- You can take on other clients if desired.

I think overall, start viewing yourself as a consultant, not a part-time employee. And err on the side of charging more than you think you're worth.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 6:29 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Marketing team in my company has several women who work part time in various creative roles (one of them is actually a copywriter). They seem to have different workday solutions. One of them doesn't work at all on Fridays. Another one works a bunch of shorter days, and several of them from home (she might pick hours up at night, but I don't know). I think they all have older children than newborn, however, and I'm positive that they don't have the kids home with them when they're working (at least not often). I don't work in that department but I do projects with all of them often and it seems to work out.

I think when you go back you could try one schedule and arrange with your boss to revisit in XX weeks/months to see if it's working for everyone, and tweak it then. You probably can't anticipate all possibilities until you're back in it.
posted by clone boulevard at 6:33 PM on April 27, 2015

My idea is that you become, essentially, a pinch hitter for the other writers.

What I mean is that you don't have one single primary account you work on. Rather, you float between accounts, based on the need. You set your part-time hours, whatever those are, and work with resource/creative management to see, week by week, which accounts need the most help.

As in, "Mattel needs headline options and the usual writer is slammed, so apostrophe can spend X hours churning some out. Then she'll switch over to work in those keywords on that Starbucks site. If the feedback comes back on the Mattel headlines, the usual writer can handle it by then." Etc.

Tell them that this means you won't "own" the work much, you don't have leadership responsibilities, you don't present work to the client. That you're more like a secret weapon on stealth mode.

Uncle Glendinning has some good, more specific suggestions too, on preview!
posted by functionequalsform at 6:38 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, also:

It's riskier, but you could offer to go freelance, with a day rate. It should pay you more in less hours than a salaried position.

The pro for your agency is that they get to "keep" you without paying your benefits, and don't need to pay for your dead time.

Childcare might be frustrating to procure with erratic days on/off, taxes are a beast, and keeping steady work can be a little too nerve-wracking for a lot of people. But I think that if you have one reliable "client" (your agency), if your partner has a steady job (just for peace of mind), and you save money well, you could get a freelance career off the ground and fairly stable in a few months.

I have at least three copywriter moms who do this, YMMV!
posted by functionequalsform at 6:45 PM on April 27, 2015

Best answer: I am an advertising creative. At a recent job, I worked under a creative director who had a small child and worked from home every Friday. She was an art director and generally used that day as uninterrupted design time (by us, at least, not sure about the kid). We kept her in the loop but didn't expect her to be super responsive about emails. We didn't have internal team meetings on Fridays and if there was a client call, she'd just call in from home. It worked fine. That particular job had very good work-life balance in general though (everyone—including creatives—gone by 6, I never worked a weekend, etc.)

It obviously depends on your agency, your clients, and your level of seniority, but the unfortunate truth is that sometimes in advertising you need to be "on call," so saying "don't contact me at all on this day every week" is going to be difficult. The good news is that it's much easier, in my opinion, for copywriters to work remotely (sending in progress copy back and forth via email is easier than showing in progress InDesign files, or whatever). My suggestion would be to switch to an hourly freelance rate, work in the office 3 days a week and be available the other 2 by email, but only if it's absolutely necessary. Make it clear that you expect to bill zero hours those days but worst comes to worst you can bill an hour or two. A good project manager will be invaluable here to manage expectations around your availability as well as knowing not to schedule meetings on days you won't be in the office. In order to make things easier on your coworkers I'd suggest not being out two days in a row, or on both Mondays and Fridays. Everything in advertising can wait a day, but putting something on Thursday on hold until Tuesday isn't always feasible.

My biggest concern is that if you have an AD partner how this might affect them. That's the person whose work life will change the most if you move part time and they stay full time. I'd talk to them about your plan before your CD, honestly.
posted by cosmic osmo at 7:28 PM on April 27, 2015

I'm currently working 25 hours a week in a creative Marketing role. My schedule right now is being in the office for 6 hours on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday (morning to mid-afternoon). This is when I schedule all of my meetings. I work from home on Monday and Friday mornings just to keep up with my email and do any "quiet time" creative work.
posted by jess at 8:01 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm a copywriter and a new mom (my baby is 11 mos.) and I feel you!

Another woman in our creative department went part-time and leaves each day at 2:30pm. I will tell you that it's been extremely hard for her. It seems like her boundaries are always getting tested and she ends up putting in lots and lots of nights and weekends. For her, it works because she's able to pick her kids up from pre-school, but from where I sit, it definitely looks like she is getting paid less but still working almost as much.

My best advice: Go back to work on a four-day-a-week schedule, at least for a while. Give yourself Fridays off. It's better to be available all day or not at all, so responsibilities can't creep beyond your allotted hours.
posted by missjenny at 7:51 AM on April 28, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for all the ideas!
posted by apostrophe at 3:25 PM on April 30, 2015

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