Portfolio Advice: Meeting Recap

Many young advertising professionals interested in making a living as creatives have the same general barrier to their dream profession—the dreaded portfolio. For some people, making their portfolio comes as easily as making the pieces themselves, but for others… well, Ad Club is here to help!

Ad Club President Mazhar Jilani introduced our third meeting, which was all about the basic do’s and don’ts of making a portfolio. He first began by surveying the crowd: who all here are hopeful creatives? About half the room raised their hands. He then followed by asking how many actually had a portfolio, and the number dwindled to maybe a fourth of those who initially raised their hands. This is understandable since, as mentioned before, making your portfolio can be a daunting task. But Mazhar warned that the portfolio is what a creative lives and dies by, and is definitely something that should always be on your mind.

Our Event Planner Ryan Shivers then began to speak up. He told us that while some traditional agencies might want to see a book in person, you should always have a portfolio online available to be seen. He claimed that the portfolio and the pieces within should be able to mostly speak for themselves—an interviewer or recruiter should be able to navigate easily through it and be able to see exactly what your role in making the pieces was.

Mazhar then began to show examples of portfolios to put their words into images. He said that being able to show not just multiple campaigns, but also multiple executions of each campaign themselves is key. Your portfolio should be able to accurately display both your strengths and your breadth of skill, and good way to do this is to show how you represented a good idea in many different ways.

He went on to say that all the work in portfolio doesn’t necessarily need to be connected to a campaign—it can also be work you’ve done on the side (so long as it is still relevant and shows off your skills). This can be a variety of things, such as logo designs and other illustrations for art directors, or creative writing pieces and blog posts for copywriters. Just, again, make sure it displays your skills and is relevant—that fanfiction might be well written, but a prospective employer won’t really want to see it.

“But I haven’t had a chance to work on any actual campaigns yet!” you cry in anguish. Well, don’t start pulling out your hair; employers understand not everyone can have already have work that’s been published and used by actual companies, especially if you’re a student. And that’s where spec work comes into play. What is spec work? Spec work is basically any work that you make for a client (made up or real) that wasn’t asked for. This can include ads that you may have redesigned or a whole new campaign you thought up on your own.

Mazhar said that spec work can be very beneficial for a portfolio, particularly for those of us who haven’t had the chance yet to do real work for clients just yet. He warned, though, that because the work isn’t real you would have to disclose that in some way.

Ryan then moved on from what should be in your portfolio to how you can make those pieces—specifically inspiration. All creative people have had that same feeling of wanting to create and not being able to, and the easiest solution to getting your brain out of that rut is really to look at what other people have done and are doing. Ryan began to give us a variety of sources designers and art directors could use for this purpose:

  • For Print Only. A database of a variety of print media. (underconsideration.com/fpo)
  • Designspiration. What Ryan described as ‘Pinterest for design.’ (designspiration.net)
  • Abduzeedo. Multiple examples of different design works. (abduzeedo.com)

He also mentioned that typography is an extremely underutilized, but highly important aspect of design. Many people ignore it, and that can be a red flag to people looking at your portfolio. He mentioned the site fontsinuse.com where you can see many different typefaces and their actual use within a medium. A list of places to find typefaces in general:

  • Adobe Typekit, typekit.com (Very important to get familiar with)
  • fonts.google.com
  • fontsquirrel.com
  • myfonts.com
  • dafont.com
  • losttype.com
  • theleagueofmoveabletype.com

You copywriters reading this might be feeling pretty left out at this point. But fret not! We understand the need for inspiration in writing, it just comes from different places. Your main source of inspiration will be the most obvious one—other pieces of writing. If you want to write you need to read. A lot. Like, all the time.

But you don’t always have to be reading whole novels and ancient pieces of poetry written by people who are now dust; because, what are you doing right now? Reading. If you need to write something, but can’t form words on your own, look for them anywhere else. In the speech of people passing by or scripted dialogue on TV, to brochures or words scrawled on the stall door of that one nasty bathroom you can’t avoid. As a copywriter, you’re lucky in that you’ll always be immersed in your medium, since words are all around you.

Ryan also mentioned that you can simply ask your classmates and peers for the resources they use themselves. He then opened the floor for any other questions that might need to be answered:

Where can I find some other creative people to work with? I’m thinking about doing some work outside of class, but needed an art director/copywriter.

Don’t be afraid to ask your classmates! We’re all here for the same reason—to learn about advertising, and ultimately build up our portfolio. There is bound to be someone in at least one of your classes who will be willing to work with you.

Would an account planner or strategist need a portfolio?

It’s not necessary, but it can definitely be helpful. A portfolio can display how you, or even someone else, used your planning/strategy and made it into a tangible ad.

Will putting in a blog help my portfolio?

If it is relevant, then yes. This is especially pertinent to copywriters, as blogs are good ways to display more of your writing skills. But beyond that, they can also help people looking at your portfolio to get a better taste of your overall personality, and a greater understanding of how you’d fit in the agency.

What about other creative works, like fiction/poetry pieces or paintings?

Same thing with blogs—it’s definitely a good way to show off more of your skills. If anything, these side creative works can really help—for copywriters, a fiction piece can really show how well you can tell a story, while paintings can show off the eye for aesthetic an art director has.

How do other side projects fit into a portfolio, and what is a good ratio to ad related pieces and these other works?

Again, just keep it relevant. Though, do try to keep things that you made in timely manners—recruiters want to see you can do good things in not a lot of time. And a good ratio is a bit hard to pin down; but overall, your portfolio should be exhibiting your advertising skills, with those side projects acting in a more supplemental way. Though, for a starting creative’s portfolio, having a bit more side projects can be helpful in showing initiative and passion despite not having the chance to make published ads.

So, should we emphasize quality or quantity?

100% quality. If anything, you should limit your portfolio to just your best works in the most recent amount of time. A good amount of campaigns to keep in your portfolio would be between 4 and 5.

Could we include spec work of ads the agency has done before?

If anything, this is just good practice. Looking into an agency and showing your interested is a key component in actually getting the job. By having spec work relevant to their client base, you are not only showing you know about the agency and their work, but that you’ve also taken an extra step on working for their clients.

With no more hands raised, Mazhar decided to close out the meeting. He gave one final piece of advice—Linkedin is your best friend in your job search. Ryan said that knowing people is crucial in this industry. Just having a good portfolio can be a good introduction, but knowing the right person can be the difference between getting your dream job or not.

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