9 Ways to Save Your Ad Agency From Embarrassing Spelling Mistakes

Photo collage of five different regretful people slapping their hand on head, having a real "duh" moment.
For any ad copy you write, proofread it three times. Yes, three times. (Photo: pathdoc)

Uh-oh. You have a spelling mistake in your headline.

You spelled “ad” as “add.”

It’s not too late to fix it, but how can you be sure there are no other errors?

The truth is, misspellings are common in an agency’s day-to-day work. If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself with embarrassing typos on your clients’ websites, print ads, or social media posts.

You might think the occasional typo isn’t a big deal, but it can cost you clients and credibility. Whether you’re an ad agency or a marketing professional, having typos in your copy will make you look unprofessional.

The good news is that you can prevent spelling disasters simply by being more diligent. In this post, I’ll share the top ways to help avoid embarrassing spelling mistakes at your agency.

1. Spell-check your work.

Use spell-check software to catch misspelled words—but don’t rely on it exclusively. It’s just one of many tools to help you proofread your work.

Using spell-check alone is not enough because sometimes what it flags isn’t actually wrong. I’ve found that Grammarly software is particularly bad at this. Grammarly and other spell-checking programs sometimes don’t flag real words that are misspelled in context, such as “ad” (when you mean “and”) and “of” (when you mean “off”).

Make sure the grammar and spell-check options in your word processing program are turned on. This sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes by default they’re turned off.

If you’re using Microsoft Word, confirm that your computer’s language option is set to “American English.”

And, worth repeating: Your work to prevent spelling errors doesn’t end at spell-check. Don’t leave yourself vulnerable to mistakes by relying too heavily on spell-checking software. Reread all of your text. The more familiar you become with a piece of writing, the easier it will be to spot spelling mistakes before spell-check points them out.

2. Use a dictionary.

Keep a dictionary nearby while writing, to help motivate you to look up words.

I find the New Oxford American Dictionary online to be particularly useful—if I’m not familiar with a word’s root or definition, NOAD will tell me what each part of the word means and how they are used together.

Photo of the cover of New Oxford American Dictionary.

3. Try proofreading the text in a different format, such as a printout or a PDF.

Reading a printout lets you focus on the text in a new and more precise way, so that you can catch typos and other errors you might not have noticed on the screen.

And if you are working on a Word document while using “track changes” and other markups, try turning them off before you proofread. Or create a PDF that includes no markups.

Any ad copy you write should be proofread three times: once on screen, once in printout or PDF format, and a final time by reading it out loud (listen carefully). It sounds like a lot of work, but it will pay off.

4. Use simpler words.  

Straightforward language will not only help prevent spelling errors in your ad copy, but it also greatly benefits the readers with concision and clarity.

For example: Instead of using a word like “demur,” consider “decline.” Or just say that you’re going to pass.

Don’t Miss: The Cringe-Worthy Mistake Many Ad Agencies Make

Illustration with text that says: "Use simpler words. This will 
not only help prevent spelling errors in your writing, but it 
also greatly benefits your readers with concision and clarity."

5. Watch for homophones (words that have different meanings and/or spellings but sound alike).

For example, the noun “lead” (a metal; pronounced “led”) is also a verb (to guide; pronounced “leed”). But the past tense of the verb is spelled “led” (and pronounced that way).

Here are more words that people tend to misuse:

  • “affect” (verb; to make an impact) vs. “effect” (generally used as a noun; a result)
  • “it’s” (a contraction of “it is” and “it has”) vs. “its” (possessive)
  • “principle” (a rule or belief) vs. “principal” (an authority figure; also “a key factor”)
  • “then” (referring to a time period) vs. “than” (used for contrast; “she’s taller than he is”)
  • “there” (direction) vs. “their” (“they possess”) vs. “they’re (“they are,” “they were”)
  • “to” (preposition) vs. “too” (also, and excess) vs. “two” (number)
  • “whose” (possessive) vs. “who’s” (“who is,” “who has”)
  • “you’re” (“you are”) vs. “your” (you own it)

6. Pay special attention to headlines and captions—they often get more “eyeballs” than the body text does.

Also closely check spellings of proper names: people, companies, brands, and more.

Nike, for one, understands the painful consequences of misspelling a high-profile person’s name.

In 2013, Nike bungled an endorsement deal worth billions of dollars (yes, billions) with an NBA superstar (Stephen Curry) because during a pitch to him, his name was misspelled in PowerPoint slides: Another player’s name had been left in one of the slides where Curry’s name should have appeared, presumably a copy-and-paste mistake that had gone unnoticed by multiple writers and editors on Nike’s team.

The pitch left Curry feeling like he was “on that second tier” behind bigger superstar athletes in Nike’s endorsement lineup. He decided to go with Under Armour instead, in a deal that one analyst valued at a staggering $14 billion for Under Armour.

If you’re doing a spit take right now, yes, I fact-checked that number, and it is indeed “billion,” not “million.

7. Read backward.

Seriously, give it a try:

  • Go to your last sentence and read it.
  • Pause at each punctuation mark and make sure you are using it correctly.
  • Then read the sentence before that one.
  • Keep reading the next sentence up, one at a time, being sure to verify every punctuation mark, until you get all the way back to the beginning.

This is a helpful proofreading trick for ad agency materials (or any kind of text, really) because your brain examines the writing from a different point of view.

8. Keep a list of troublesome words.

Such a list is a handy thing to share with your co-workers. Encourage others to add their own words to the list.

9. Get a pro to proofread your work.

An outsider brings a fresh set of eyes that can help catch errors of any kind.

Your agency will benefit from the help of a professional proofreading service that has deep experience in reviewing ad agency materials.

When your agency’s work is almost ready and you’d like to be sure the text looks perfect, consider getting professional help from our team at Super Copy Editors. We love editing and proofreading materials for agencies—and we know how important great copy is, not just for your clients but also for your agency.

Just get in touch to discuss.

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Dave Baker

View posts by Dave Baker
Hi, I’m Dave Baker, founder and copy chief of Super Copy Editors. I have more than two decades of professional proofreading and copy editing experience, including work for The Nation magazine, The New York Times, and The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, where I shared two staff Pulitzer Prizes after Hurricane Katrina. Today, I have put together a hand-picked team of copy editors, and we especially love working with ad agencies, marketing departments, and education companies to make their text as polished as possible. Learn more here.

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