How to Create a Copywriting Portfolio of Spec Ads
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.
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.
Similarly, you shouldn't try incorporating images into your portfolio whether or not you've paid for their use. You should let your copy speak for itself. And if you used copyrighted images you didn't pay for—and that would be obvious if the photo site's name is visible—it would be an ethics red flag in a creative director's eyes.
Creative directors would much rather see a portfolio of outstanding pieces of copy on plain white paper than dressed-up ads with someone else's stolen 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, don't discount the bigger agencies. They, too, might give you an opportunity if you make a great initial impression on them.
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 solid, clever, salable copy that showcases your talent. If your book is mediocre, the CD is going to think so-so is the best you can do and they'll look elsewhere for someone to wow them.
Think of it this way, too: Stand a copywriter with some experience against a recent college grad with no prior experience. If the copywriter with some experience has a lackluster portfolio and the college grad has an outstanding portfolio, that college grad has leveled the playing field and may even have the advantage in hiring.
Persistence and Patience
It's hard when you want an ad career not to stress over every detail. There's nothing wrong with wanting everything to be absolutely perfect; just don't let that desire for perfection psych you out.
Be persistent and patient, do your best work, and you will find your way into a job.