How to Respond Successfully to Spec Challenges, Part 2

The fastest way to boost your client base … especially when you're starting at zero … is with spec assignments.

Now, some copywriters may complain, "Why should I write something I'm not going to be paid for?"

What these writers don't realize is that most potential clients aren't asking for a full-fledged promo. Most are asking for a headline and lead. Or a four-page letter that showcases what you can do.

And as for not getting paid … in one of his Bootcamp presentations, master copywriter Gary Hennerberg told about a spec assignment he managed that had a $7,500 payday for the person who ended up with the job!

It was a spec challenge any beginning copywriter could have won. But, sadly, many of the writers who submitted copy were eliminated early in the running. Not because they weren't good copywriters – but because they did not follow some simple directions.

Last week, we gave you 10 tips – directly from Gary's Bootcamp presentation – on how to boost your chances of success with specs.

Today: 11 more surefire tips to keep you in the running until the very end, so that you can be the copywriter walking away with the assignment … and with a huge kickstart to a successful career.

  1. Correspondence

    If your potential client is going to send you lots of information, in all likelihood they'll email it to you. But things happen … especially with electronic files. When large files don't make it through, send the client a brief request for the materials to be resent.

    Always be polite and respectful of a client's time. Courtesy stands out and does make an impression for the future.

  2. Your Email Provider

    If you're having trouble receiving large files from spec clients via email, the most likely culprit is YOUR email provider. If you're serious about copywriting, you should have an email service that enables you to receive large files. It's that simple.

    It's nice to get email service for free. But if that service restricts the size of the files you receive, you're handicapping your client … and hamstringing yourself.

  3. Know What Your Client Needs and Wants

    For the $7,500 spec challenge that Gary talked about, the client asked for the files to be submitted as Word or PDF files – but some copywriters submitted Word Perfect files that couldn't be opened. Others sent their copy in the text of their email, thus losing the impact of all the formatting they'd done: larger type, font types, etc. (And formatting was important in this assignment.)

    Know the difference between a Word document and RTF. Between text and PDF. Having a basic understanding of the technology you’re working with tells the spec client that you are not afraid of learning new things. (After all, that's what good research is all about.)

  4. Authenticity

    Don't try to twist your submission into something it's not.

    Let's say you're submitting for a financial newsletter. In that case, you certainly want your promo to have the look and feel of a financial newsletter. And, the same goes for health …fundraising … or self-help. Study the genre you’re writing for to make sure your format fits. What works for financial, doesn’t necessarily work for health. Understand this simple concept and you're ahead of your competitors.

  5. It's Business

    Unless otherwise stated, a spec assignment is a business initiative, not an educational experience for you to have your copy critiqued. Accept the judgment of the client and analyze your copy to see where you could have made it stronger … and will next time.

  6. The Winning Submission

    Yes, you're curious … but it's bad form to ask to see the winner's submission. Marketing materials are often confidential until tested. And even then, tests are often limited and the marketer doesn't want the materials to be circulated.

  7. Your Big Idea

    You have to engage your spec client with your Big Idea – and you have to do it with only a few words. Gary and his associates had to read through 112 submissions for that $7,500 assignment. Need I say, yours MUST stand out.

  8. Seconds Count

    Keep in mind that you're submitting to people who read lots of copy often, so you only have seconds to grab their attention. Gary says he knew in about 10 seconds if he'd keep reading a submission or go on to the next one.

  9. Sales Copy

    Remember, this is sales copy, not a novel. Don't write to impress. Write to sell.

  10. Your Best Effort

    Strive for perfection. Sloppy work peppered with typos is unprofessional and unacceptable. You and the spec client both know that you're submitting to get work, so your submission should represent the best work you can do. If you submit sloppy work up front … what kind of a mess will the client assume he'll be in for later?

  11. Practice and Edit

    You may be competing against 1 or 100 people. It doesn't matter. You must always present your very best work. And your best work is a result of practice. Keep writing, Keep submitting. And be a relentless editor of your own copy all along the way.

Gary's 21 tips on how to respond successfully to a spec challenge won’t guarantee you’ll submit the winning assignment every time. But if you follow his insider advice, you'll be at the front of the pack more often than your competitors.

And being at the front – even if you don’t win the spec assignment – attracts attention. Attention that can translate into the day a client says, "Remember that copywriter who's consistently done really well in our spec challenges? Maybe we should test her on this assignment."

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Published: October 29, 2007

5 Responses to “How to Respond Successfully to Spec Challenges, Part 2”

  1. Good information. I would have liked to read the first one. This should help me when I start doing spec assignments.

    Jack Settles

  2. nice article


  3. What great advice! I'm almost set with my first AWAI sample to send off. Your 11-21 suggestions are golden!


  4. Great Advise! Thanks Gary for taking the time to put it together for us!


  5. Splendid advise Gary, thanks a bunch!!

    Donald C Obii

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