Portfolio 101: Mastering Spec

Ah, spec work. Short for speculative work, it’s the first step into the world of advertising. I remember my first spec ad was for a prison-learning program. Very deep stuff, I do not recommend. Learn from my mistakes. Here’s what you need to know when creating your ads.



Got a cool idea for the iPhone 7? Great! Save it. A groundbreaking idea for McDonald’s? Awesome! Nobody cares.

Big brands are big brands because they have the best agencies and best creatives working on it. Nike may be your dream to work on, but if you can make shoelaces look as bad-ass as the shoe, you’re well on your way.


Which brings us to our next point…



An ad for Marty McFly’s power-lacing shoes would undoubtedly be a dope piece. But when was the last time you saw a cool ad for rubber bands? White bread? Hemorrhoid cream? The “boring” stuff is your gold mine. Creating interesting and original ideas with a product with a dozen competitors will get you noticed.



My favorite medium is guerrilla. Many creatives appreciate the shock and awe of a well-done guerilla campaign. But can you bring that same element of surprise to direct mail or point of purchase? Explore some of the more humble, unsexy media and take your ideas to places most people won’t.



I wish I had appreciated my spec ad days more. You have all the creative freedom in the world now – before tight budgets, creative briefs and client feedback. You can make anything happen in your spec work. Be careful not to get caught up in the execution that you ignore the idea.  Always lead with the idea, simple, clean ideas work best.


13 Awesome Ad Blogs You Should be Reading

In no particular order, here are a few of my favorite ad blogs. Though some haven’t been updated recently, their archives are full of great advice and insight. Stay inspired folks.

  1.  The Inspiration Room
  2. Adland
  3. Modern Copywriter
  4. Makin’ Ads
  5. Baby Food for Creatives

    Baby Food for Creatives

    Baby Food for Creatives

  6. Adfreak
  7. Hello You Creatives

    Hello Your Creatives

    Hello Your Creatives

  8.  Adverblog
  9. Typostrate
  10. No ad school

    No Ad School

    No Ad School

  11. Advertising Week Social Club
  12. Creativity Online
  13. This Advertising Life


Don’t get me started


Let me know what blogs you’re checking out!


Required Reading I

When I was getting my book in front of everyone I could, a very kind recruiter took time to review and critique my work. I’d been getting feedback, but she was honest, my book needed some work. Ok, a lot of work. She recommended I pick up a copy of How to Put your Book Together and get a Job in Advertising by Maxine Paetro. Give or take six months of reading it, I revamped my portfolio and started interning at an agency in Chicago.

I’m not saying this book is the golden ticket to an agency, but the advice within the pages is golden. If your school, like mine, never really explained what the hell a portfolio is I highly recommend you grab a copy. It’s a very easy to follow and quick read that could help jumpstart your career.