Preparing an advertising portfolio of spec ads—ones you've created to show off your skills, not for an actual client—may make you feel like an amateur. But creative directors at advertising agencies have hired their fair share of budding copywriters based on spec work alone.
If you're fresh out of college or want to make a career change to advertising copywriter, here are some suggestions for creating an impressive spec ad portfolio.
Label Them as Spec
Don't try to hide that your copy wasn't created for a paying client. You should clearly mark each ad with the word "spec," so it doesn't appear you're trying to misstate your experience.
If you want to break into advertising, you'll need to show you can work in several different mediums. Maybe you're most comfortable with print ads. Even so, you should include copy for TV and radio commercials, websites, and emails in your spec portfolio. Otherwise, you'll start out at an immediate disadvantage against other newbies who have a diversified portfolio.
Dealing With Visuals
Copywriters aren't responsible for the visual components of advertisements, but that shouldn't stop you from indicating in your copy-only portfolio what images you picture going with your words. Doing that will show you're a wordsmith who can appreciate how your work merges with that of the design professionals in an agency.
Alternatively, you could work with a designer who can provide the visuals to go along with your copy. If the designer is in the same boat as you—needing to create spec ads to show off their skills—you could form an ideal partnership to produce both of your portfolios.
One thing you shouldn't do is incorporate copyrighted images into your ads. Using other people's images that you didn't pay for should be an ethics red flag in a creative director's eyes—and the unauthorized use would be obvious if the photo site's name is visible.
Most creative directors would rather see a portfolio of outstanding pieces of copy on plain white paper than dressed-up ads with someone else's copyrighted images.
Going Small or Big
When you're just starting out, it makes sense to begin your career at a smaller agency that might be more likely to take a chance on someone with only a spec portfolio. Small shops are a great training ground where you can work closely with and learn from the minimal staff.
However, you shouldn't discount the bigger agencies altogether. They, too, might give you an opportunity if you make a great initial impression.
Just because your portfolio consists of spec ads doesn't mean it shouldn't be amazing. Make your book more than just good. It should impress the creative director with articulate, clever, attention-grabbing copy that is bound to increase sales.
Your portfolio is your opportunity to level the playing field with candidates who have been working in the business for years. If your spec ads are better than your competitors' actual ads, you've succeeded in making your experience deficit a non-issue.