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Because I’m based in Orlando, Florida, and have done writing projects for area theme parks, I am frequently asked by freelance copywriters how they can break into this market.
The idea of writing for theme parks sounds fun and one would assume lucrative, so I’m not surprised by the questions. My answers though may not be what you’d expect. For that reason, I thought I’d share a recent discussion I had with one such freelance copywriter.
— Susan Greene
My name is Laura. I’m a copywriter currently transitioning from an in-house marketing position to freelance copywriter. I saw an interview you did where you talked about working on writing projects for theme parks like Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld.
I’m wondering if you could give me any advice on obtaining freelance work with these companies. It seems like they do most of their advertising with internal agencies, and if they use freelance copywriters, they definitely don’t advertise for them. How can I break into this market?
Any advice you’d be willing to give would be great.
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It’s nice to meet you.
Everyone wants to work for theme parks like Disney World and SeaWorld. I get it; it sounds like fun. And as big companies, they certainly do put a lot of resources into marketing, including copywriting. However, you’re not the only one to notice. If writing for theme parks is your objective, expect plenty of competition and low rates.
As you’ve already realized, getting in the door to even be considered for copywriting jobs from theme parks is not easy. They have plenty of talent and resources in-house. You need contacts to help pave the way for those rare jobs that use outside vendors.
In my case, the way I got in the door with Disney marketing was that I was a freelance writer for a local magazine called “Restaurant Forum.” It profiled area restaurants, and a few of my assignments included writing articles about restaurants at Disney hotels and parks. I ended up getting to know the Disney Food & Beverage Marketing Director, who later contracted me to write some of Disney’s marketing materials.
The work was interesting and the free meals that came as part of my “Disney education” were enjoyable, but here’s the kicker: the pay was extremely low. When I added up the number of hours I spent meeting with my Disney contact and interviewing the chefs featured in the marketing pieces I created as well the time spent writing and revising, my project fee, which was decided by Disney, wasn’t much more than minimum wage.
After working as a freelance copywriting for Disney for about a year, I told my contact I needed to charge more for her work. The increase wasn’t significant in my opinion, and I’d clearly proven I did quality work.
Much to my surprise, my Disney contact said, “We can’t pay anything extra. We realize our pay is low for a professional writer. We really need to work with a mom who just wants manicure money.” Manicure money? I was working to buy groceries and pay my rent! It was further clear from her comments that finding someone at the “manicure rate” wouldn’t be a problem.
Needless to say, we soon parted ways. I’m not bitter about the Disney experience, as I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes education in theme park marketing, but it certainly was not a way to build a copywriting business.
As for SeaWorld, here’s how I got in the door there. When I first moved to Orlando and was trying to get my freelance writing business off the ground, I sent out letters of introduction to various graphic designers. One of them had the freelance contract to produce SeaWorld’s monthly newsletter that was sent to to all its season pass holders.
The graphic designer hired me to write the copy to accompany her designs. That gig lasted for several months until SeaWorld moved the copywriting in-house for budgetary reasons.
Finally, my work for Universal Studios came via a temp stint when I first moved from New Hampshire to Orlando. I signed up with a temp agency to get some work right away and be able to pay my bills while I built up my freelance writing business. One of my first assignments happened to be with Universal Studios in their Group Sales Division.
Even though I was brought in to primarily do clerical work (and paid accordingly), co-workers soon realized I could write. Assignments such as crafting sales letters and writing press releases soon landed on my desk.
My work was good enough that some of the higher-ups noticed and I was offered an interview with the Marketing & PR Department. However, the job involved frequent travel, which would not have worked for me, as I had a two-year-old son at the time. Therefore, when the temp stint ended, so did my relationship with Universal Studios as they kept almost all of their copywriting work in-house.
I’ve since had various other gigs for local Orlando attractions and tourist areas, but nothing that paid particularly well. Fortunately, I’ve found other more lucrative avenues to pursue.
Bottom line, if I were you trying to build a freelance copywriting business, I wouldn’t target the theme parks: plenty of competition and low pay if you do get work. No thank you.
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Thank you so much for your detailed response. I have to admit, I wasn’t sure I’d hear back.
I can’t say I’m all that surprised that the pay isn’t great. Since it’s a desirable niche, they can probably get away with it. It’s continually amazing to me how many copywriting jobs are obtained by word of mouth and personal contacts. Thank goodness it’s a small world!
Anyway, I appreciate your response. I probably won’t spend too much time pursuing these kinds of projects since they just aren’t worth it. Thanks for saving me the time!
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Good luck to you in all your endeavors, Laura.