Getting a job can seem like a vicious circle at times (especially for us college students about to enter the “real world”) because you need to have experience to get experience. In the world of advertising and copywriting (and most other creative fields) companies don’t want to hire people without first seeing their work. It’s a world where promises aren’t always enough, and telling a hiring manager I’m creative doesn’t work as well as showing them to prove it.
But what if you’ve never had a job in the field, and therefore have no work to show a potential employer? You could try to offer your services to small businesses or non profit organizations (probably for free) and hope that they trust you enough for the job, or you could first create a portfolio of spec ads.
Spec ads, short for “speculation advertisements,” are works that you create on your own for a company, but without actually working for the company. This will give any potential employers a general sense of what you can do, and they’ll also get an idea of your advertising personality to see if it fits well with their company’s personality (i.e. funny, blunt, controversial, etc).
The trick to spec ads: research, and lots of it. Each ad you create should sound like it could have come from the company itself. I think the most important part of making an ad is determining who your audience is, because if you don’t know who you are trying to reach with your ad, you won’t know what to write. But it’s also important to research the company to discover what types of ads they typically create. You want the voice of your spec ad to match (or at least be really similar to) the voice of the company’s real advertisements, because it shows that you’re adaptable and that you did your homework.
Once you have a few spec ads in your portfolio, you can use them as a launchpad to get employers’ attention. Hopefully they will be able to see all your endless potential, and before you know it you’ll be a professional copywriter!