Skills & Expertise

How to Get Your Copywriting Portfolio Started

Showcasing your work is the first step in landing an agency job

Even the most skilled writers need a portfolio to show off their ability to collaborate with designers and conceptualize big ideas. If you’re looking to land an agency job but need a portfolio, check out these tips on getting one started.

1. Go to Ad School

The most surefire way to build a portfolio worthy of showcasing to creative directors is to enroll in ad school, also known as portfolio school.

Of course, ad school requires the largest investment in your time and money—most offer a 2-year program and run close to what a college degree might cost. But if you can foot the bill, the payoff is definitely worth the ride.

In a typical ad school, copywriters team up with designers, creating a portfolio of spec ads and campaigns. With teachers—who are oftentimes copywriters in the field—helping to hone your ideas and communication skills, you’ll leave with a book of fresh ideas and executions, and you’ll be prepared to pitch your big ideas effectively.

Looking for a more practical commitment? Mediabistro’s copywriting courses, taught by industry professional instructors, will help you build a portfolio of succinct, meaningful and effective content through a manageable amount of class exercises.

2. Do Pro-Bono Work

If ad school or a copywriting course is more than what you can handle at the moment, consider building your portfolio by offering to develop campaigns free of charge, or severely discounted. Say you have a friend who’s starting a business; helping out by developing the marketing materials is a win-win. David Airey, graphic designer and blogger, recommends approaching small- to medium-sized nonprofits as they likely could use the help.

If you go this route, keep in mind how you’ll be filling your portfolio. You’ll need a nice diversification of verticals, if possible. So if, for example, your first pro-bono project is for a startup tech company, aim for your next client to be in a different field. Creative directors and ad agencies want to see your ability to conceptualize bold ideas across the board, so show them you can tell big stories and solve big problems, no matter the subject matter.

And while it certainly doesn’t hurt for copywriters to have design skills, in this situation it can be beneficial to seek out a designer to help build the visuals to your copy concepts. But designers cost money, right? Let’s check out the next section below:

3. Team Up

Just like you—the newbie copywriter looking to build a portfolio—there are newbie designers going after a similar goal of developing a portfolio to showcase to art directors. Working together to build a portfolio is mutually beneficial and, if you’re able to find a designer in the same stage of the portfolio process as you, you might just be able to work out an arrangement.

But how to find this designer? Since it couldn’t hurt you to take a class in design, consider signing up for an in-person or online course. There, you’ll not only learn some invaluable skills, you’ll also meet designers. Make some friends and spread the word you’re looking to build your portfolio as a copywriter and you just might find the perfect partner.

And remember, nobody likes feeling taken advantage of. So when you do find a partner, make sure you’re both reaping rewards from this portfolio build. Check in with your designer to make sure you’re creating content that fits your respective needs.

4. Make It Better

While you’re building your first book, seek out a professional copywriter or art director for their opinion on your portfolio. Maybe you’re lucky and have a copywriter friend who can provide feedback along the way; send along the link and offer to discuss feedback over coffee or drinks (on you, of course).

Don’t know anybody in the industry to provide feedback? Post your portfolio site link to a site like Reddit and graciously ask for feedback from copywriters, art directors and creative directors. You can also join LinkedIn groups like Creative Designers and Writers to keep current on conversations with your fellow creatives.

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