Portfolio School Lies to You

Here is the greatest lie you will be told in portfolio school:

If you don’t get a job at one of 4 or 5 elite agencies, you have failed.

Didn’t get an interview at Wieden? You suck, obviously. Goodby sent your book back? F minus for you. You spent all that money, and all those long nights working on a book. And what did you get in return? A subpar career.

And you kind of believe it, don’t you?

It’s hard not to. Certain shops are in the books more often than others. They get more press. More of their spots run during primetime. So if you start to believe the lie, it’s understandable. But that doesn’t make it any less of a lie.

The agencies change from year to year. When I graduated, Crispin wasn’t the shop everyone prayed would hire them. Cliff Freeman was. Twenty years ago, it was probably Ammirati & Puris.

But this lie ignores two truths:

  1. What creative director you work for usually matters more than what agency you work for. (Personally, I’d rather work under Ty Montague at J. Walter Thompson, than do product brochures at Goodby.)

  2. There are great, creatively driven, career-building shops everywhere. Check out Push in Orlando. Firehouse in Dallas. Wexley School for Girls in Seattle. Zig in Chicago. Richter7 in Salt Lake City. Walrus and Toy in New York. The most recent issue of How has a great write-up on Shine in Madison, Wisconsin. If I were looking for a job, it’s one agency I’d definitely check out. And they're not all boutiques. Publicis in Seattle, Hill Holliday in Boston, and Y&R Chicago all do great work. (That last one may seem like a brazen plug, but check out the work.)

What “unknowns” have you guys been digging?