How Spec Ads Can Help Get Your Foot in the Door

Help WantedGetting 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!



  1. I’m about to finish my Communications degree and have such a passion for advertising and brand management. But as a student in University where much of our work is research and theoretical issues and case studies, I find that the push for creativity has been sacrificed a little in terms of actually putting a portfolio together. I have great ideas and even business plans, but getting the images has me unsure. Is creating spec ads with images from magazines and Pinterest for example (with my own copywriting) the right start?

    1. Hey Chantelle 🙂 Congrats on getting your degree soon! And I agree, it seems like schools (or at least my school) don’t focus as much on real-world applications of marketing and advertising as they do the theories. And since the majority (if not all) ad agencies require a portfolio before they even look at your resume, a creative portfolio is pretty much a requirement.

      So I definitely think you’d be on the right track just using prominent brands and adding your copywriting to it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an image with text over it, it could be pretty much any form of advertising. A slogan, a social media campaign, or a script/concept idea for a TV commercial would all work well. And I think it’s even more beneficial to create a whole campaign of spec ads, because it shows you can carry out a big idea over several ads, rather than just getting lucky with a single ad (hopefully that makes sense?)

      Also, I think along with spec ads it’s great to get some “real” copywriting under your belt, even if you have to volunteer for a local business or two for free. There are usually some great copywriting internships online that are work from home (mostly unpaid, unfortunately) if you can’t find a business in your area to work with. Not the most glamorous brands, of course, but it will give your portfolio more diversity if you’ve written legit ads for tiny business and spec ads for giant brands.

      This turned out to be an epically long comment, but hopefully it helps a little! I’m definitely not an expert in the industry, but I’d be more than happy to try to answer any other questions the best I can!

  2. I have been doing this for a portfolio for about 3 months now. I work in a small convenience store that’s always really empty, so often I find myself standing there trying to pass time. So what I’ve taken to doing is getting a piece of recite paper and picking the first product that comes to mind when looking around the store, and I make up an advertising campaign for it. For example, I did one today for a Pot Noodle. I’ve also done Lipton Ice Tea, Budweiser and even something as simple as a bunch of flowers. It’s great practice and really passes time when you’re working long, boring shifts!

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