You want your copywriting spec ad to be the best that it a can be. (Obviously!) But there’s one huge mistake that a ton of new copywriters make that can absolutely tank their chances of getting work. Want to avoid it? I thought you might.
I was watching some movie the other day in which a PR pro was advising a politician to reject the premise of a question. I’m going to do the same thing here: I reject the premise of this question.
You see, it’s a good question, but its whole premise is based on the idea of you designing your own spec ads. And that, my dear friend, is a big mistake.
In fact, it’s the number one mistake in creating spec ads: Copywriters should not be designing their own ads.
And there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Even if you like designing, even if you just spent a small fortune on Photoshop, even if you went to school for graphic design, you should not be designing your own spec ads.
Why? Well, there are a couple of reasons.
Copywriting and Design Are Two Different Skills
First, and most basically, very few people are good at both copy and design. So, if you try to design your ad yourself, there’s a good chance it will have great copy and mediocre-to-awful design.
If you put that in your portfolio, not only is your design going to take away from your copy, but a creative director is going to think you included it because you can’t tell the difference between good design and bad design. And that’s a bad thing. You don’t need to know how to design, but you need to know bad design when you see it.
Copywriting (as you know) requires training. So does graphic design.
What Copywriters Should Know About Design
While you don’t have to be a design expert as a copywriter, you do need to know the difference between good and bad design. Pick up a copy of Design Basics Index by Jim Krause at your library (or buy a copy—it’s a great book for copywriters to have on their bookshelves!). This book breaks down (with illustrations!) the most important design elements.
Example of Bad Design
One of the major design principles you need to know as a copywriter is hierarchy. Hierarchy is how information (both copy and design) is arranged and presented. Ideally, you want the most important information conveyed first.
As copywriters, we think of hierarchy as the order of information. For example, the headline comes before the subhead comes before the body copy. And this is part of it. But a designer is also factoring in size of text and other visual elements, colors, contrast, alignment, and more to make sure the hierarchy makes sense and the eye is drawn to the most important information first. Depending on the medium—email, poster, billboard, etc.—the way they use these elements will vary.
The crucial thing for you to know as a copywriter is when hierarchy simply isn’t working or doesn’t exist in a design. This example of a poster shows what happens when their is no hierarchy. Your eye doesn’t know where to look. And if your eye doesn’t know where to look, it means your audience is likely not going to get the message.
You Need to Prove You Can Collaborate
Second, one of the most important things that a spec ad demonstrates (besides your copywriting skills) is that you know how to work well with designers. If you’re designing your own ads, though, the messages you’re sending are “I have no idea how to work with designers” and “I don’t even know any designers.”
Remember, just as you’re someone who’s newish to copywriting and you need to build your portfolio, there are plenty of people out there who are newish to graphic design and need to build their portfolios, too.
Get in touch with design schools, post something (safely) on Craigslist, join industry groups and meet-ups, search people on LinkedIn—there are tons of ways to find designers to work with.
Don’t be the applicant with the crummy looking spec ads; work with a designer and be the applicant that gets the job!
Watch More: Number One Spec Mistake
Hear Nicki and Kate talk more about why not working with a designer is the number one spec ad mistake copywriters make. They also share places you can look for designers and how to make the most of this crucial creative relationship.
Read More: Advertorial Copywriting Tips
Don’t forget another ad you’ll likely write in your copywriting career: advertorials. Part editorial, part ad, here are some tips to writing an effective advertorial.
How have you found designers to work with for your copywriting spec ads? Let us know in the comments below!
Last Updated on January 23, 2024