In the advertising creative universe, it’s not enough to simply have a resume, you must also have a creative book. A portfolio, preferably in hard copy to show off those layout skills you learned in college or design school, but in these days of instant gratification, a web version is also a must. A sampling of your best work, which shows both your range and your strengths. This is what gets you in the door; it is your first impression.There are differing opinions by Creative Directors everywhere as to what constitutes a great portfolio. Some CD’s look simply for someone who “gets it.” This is not the easiest thing to pin down, this Getting It. Is it agency pedigree? Is it trendiness and interactive? Is it who you’ve worked for in the past?
Recently I queried among some Creative Directors we know as to what they look for in a portfolio or body of work. The general consensus? Quality of the book, followed very closely by your attitude and personality. Matt Savage says, “I look for great, smart work first. Wit and taste and a sense of style, engaging and strategically intelligent. Substance over style.” John January from Sullivan Higdon Sink and American Copywriter reports that “Portfolio and attitude are the key factors for us. We look for beautiful ideas executed by people we want to work with. If your ideas are great, and you’re not an asshole then we really don’t care what your pedigree is.” So what’s the best way to lay out a portfolio to get it noticed? Again, similar preferences among CDs. January goes on to say, ” I prefer a book that’s laid out in terms of excellence. Most creative directors are busy people. I subscribe to the notion of leading with your very best piece – the piece that is most likely to captivate and make the viewer want to turn the page to see more.. End with your second best piece. Evaluate the stuff in the middle very carefully. If you have any doubts at all, throw it out. Be absolutely brutal with yourself.”The best work is not always defined as those which the client loved, or that won awards, or sold the most products. Sometimes its good to include those pieces which really show your true sense of concepts and using design and/or language to solve problems. Sometimes these are the pieces that never even made it in front of the client, much less onto the page or trafficked into the broadcast rotation.
Again, Matt Savage: “Chronology or media is less important in terms of order. 12-14 great samples, with a couple of “wild cards” like an album cover or greeting card are fine.”
And don’t include something from every client you’ve ever worked on, out of fear that you’ll miss what they might be looking for. Be choosy. Make your point in as little space as possible. Put in the work of which you are most proud. That which demonstrates how you concept strategic brand messages using artistic tools. However, be aware of your audience: If you know the agency you are interviewing with has a similar client, it might be good to include something you wouldn’t normally highlight, just to let them know you’ve done that, too.
Ralph McGill, offers this little gem: “I expect the presenter to go with what he or she feels is the strongest idea, and then holds back one powerful concept at the end. It is annoying to have someone dump their entire career on your desk. It is time consuming and doesn’t demonstrate discernment.”
- “Portfolio (big ideas, problems solved, integration across various media)
- Attitude/personality (ego in check, but has one)
- Awards (major shows)
- Work History (not where but how long and on what)
- Career goals (as in they have a plan)”
- ” Impactful moments.
- Opportunities for participation.
- Exposure of hidden needs.
- The intuition of an artist.
In general, the portfolios we see are either great, or just okay, and frankly, its hard for us as recruiters to know the difference, its so subjective to the Creative Director looking to hire the next new talent for his/her agency. This is why I reached out to our Creative Director friends for their thoughts.
But in the end, its not just about the book. Its about how you fit into that agency’s culture, and how you go about solving their client’s problems. As David Coats of Slingshot in Dallas says, “We’ve rejected many great books because we didn’t feel that the candidate was a good fit culturally. ”
Coats has one more thought for students: “Use every opportunity to show your creativity. That means treating the physical portfolio itself as a piece of creative. I want to see real passion and care and energy in the entire presentation. ”
Many people forget that in advertising and marketing, the purpose of the resume or portfolio is to market “Product You”. You must look at yourself as a product to be marketed, much as you do your client’s products. And if you can’t market yourself, the odds of someone believing you can market their products are not overwhelmingly good.