If you’re new to copywriting, you’re probably wondering how to build your portfolio before you actually have things to put in it.
Having an online portfolio site is crucial because it helps “sell” you to prospective employers and clients before they even meet you. The samples in your portfolio prove that you know how to write copy, work with a designer, write to a brand voice, and a dozen other things.
But I understand the confusion with building a portfolio site before you have samples from clients to put in it. That’s where spec ads come in.
What Is a Spec Ad?
Spec ads are ads you create without a company or client paying you to do so. I hate using this word, but they’re like “fake” ads. You create your own creative brief, you find a designer, and you and this designer create ads (or emails or direct mails or any other type of creative) per that brief.
If Audi or Victoria’s Secret or Cheetos or IKEA asked you to do an ad, what would they look like? Okay, now do that. Yes, you don’t have these clients yet, but you can still design ads for what you would do for them and still present them to potential employers as examples of what you can do as a writer.
When you create sample ads, they achieve roughly the same ends that real pieces do. They prove that you know how to write copy and all of the other things I listed earlier.
Note: Creating a spec ad is not the same as writing on spec. For more on writing on spec, click here >>
When to Remove Spec Pieces from Your Portfolio
Are real samples preferable? Of course. A spec ad for McDonald’s is just not going to carry the same weight as a real ad you wrote for McDonald’s, simply because there’s an added layer of implied legitimacy if they hired you to do the work.
But until you are hired by McDonald’s, you need to put something in your portfolio. Spec ads are the smart solution. You need to label these ads as “spec” in your print and digital portfolios. But that won’t take away from their impact: If they’re good, they’ll work in your favor.
When you get real samples, you can start to swap them out for your spec pieces.
But, consider keeping some spec ads in your portfolio even when you have paid samples. Even when you’ve been working as a copywriter for years, there may be industries or mediums you haven’t been paid to write—yet.
Having spec pieces show your ability to write in a range of voices and mediums. For example, if you work with a client and the majority of your work is product descriptions for ecommerce brands selling directly to consumers, you may have spec pieces that show you can write emails for a technology company selling to other businesses.
Watch More: A Word of Caution
One of the biggest spec ad mistakes is designing your own ads. If you work with a designer, you’re going to have a much stronger piece for your portfolio. And you want your portfolio to reflect your best work. You also want clients to know you can collaborate.
Savvy clients are not looking for a copywriter and designer all in one person. They know copy and design are two different skill sets that both take training. And they know very few people are equally skilled at both.
What other questions do you have about spec ads? Let us know in the comments below!
Last Updated on November 27, 2023