Check you're emails for typos.

The number of portfolio school students on the market has spiked this month. If you don't believe me, check the in-boxes of almost any creative in the business. It's not quite a flood of pdfs, links and requests for interviews. But it's definitely high tide.

Here are a few things to avoid:

  1. Typos. There is no excuse for this.

  2. Not getting to the point. Most creatives don't have a lot of time to wade through attempts at being clever. Introduce yourself, tell me how you got my name, and ask me to look at your book and give you feedback. Feel free to use my response (almost all creatives will give one if you ask) as an opportunity to continue the conversation. But don't try to cram your shining personality into an email. It's all about the work.

  3. Mass emails. Quick story: My sophomore year in high school a really pretty girl wrote some very nice things about me in my year book. She talked about how beautiful my eyes were, how funny I was, and what a nice smile I had. I had no idea she was attracted to me. Summer break was looking good. But when my friends and I realized she had written the same thing in all our yearbooks pretty much word for word, our attraction to her plummeted and she became a joke. Moral: Bait as many lines as you can. Just realize that my art director, the creative recruiter and I all talk on a regular basis.

  4. Cut-and-pasted emails. I recently received an email asking if I knew the creative recruiter at BBH. Even though there's no BBH in Chicago. And my email is

  5. Portfolios set up on Blogger. A couple of you have done this to get feedback on your work. That's fine when you preface it as a rough draft. Totally understandable. But I've seen a couple finished books that are actually set up in this format. Please don't do this. This blog may not deserve a better showcase, but your work sure does.

Words of Ernie, Part IV: Your First Job

When I was in portfolio school, I was lucky enough to have Ernie Schenck as my mentor. (If you're new to the blog, you can read some of his sage advice here, here and here.)

When I took my first job out of school, I wrote him about it. I'm posting his response, because it's going to apply to you, too:

Greg-- That's great. Good for you. It sounds like a real good opportunity to get your career off the ground. Just remember to stay vigilant. Protect your brand. Not that you have one yet, but pretend that you do:) If things are working out and you're getting your needs met, and you know what those are at this point, then great. If not, though, don't wait to jump ship. Trust me on this inertia thing. The longer people stay in one place the harder it is for them to leave. Just keep your wits about you. Be in touch. --Ernie Schenck

Graduates, Share the Love

The majority of you are probably too busy with interviews and sending out minibooks to even read this. We wish you the best of luck over the next few days, weeks and months of job hunting. Please keep in touch. We'd love to know where you land.

If you’re leaving a portfolio school, please let the incoming class know about the Makin’ Ads blog. We enjoy doing it. And it’s nice to know there are people who can benefit from our experience, however flawed our opinions may be.

Thanks again and congratulations.

(For those of you not graduating, back to work.)

When Someone Else Takes Your Job

My first portfolio review was at the One Club. As part of the student exhibition, they used to bring in speakers to address the throng of students who traveled to New York for the event. The speakers my first year were Jamie Barrett, Mike Shine and John Butler. It was a pretty impressive show.

Butler and Shine were only a couple years into their new shop. I don't even think Greg Stern had joined them yet. They completely hypnotized us with their reel. They were this hot, boutique agency, started by a couple Goodby spin-offs who were doing phenomenal, edgy work out of a boathouse in the Bay Area. At the end of their presentation, all 200+ of us wanted to go work in Sausalito. So during the Q&A session, one bold student asked, "Are you hiring juniors?" Mike Shine said, "Yeah...In fact, we just hired Crockett. I think he's here. Oh, there he is in the back." And the crowd turned to see Crockett Jeffers, a VCU Adcenter student who was still a couple weeks away from officially graduating, waving and smiling in the back row.

I was a year behind Crockett, so I didn't loathe his fortune the way most of the graduates there did. I knew he had one of the best books in the school, and if anyone deserved to work at Butler Shine, it was probably him. Still, I think everyone saw it as a steaming pile of injustice. They'd been struggling for months - years even - to put their books together, and this guy somehow snagged a job before anyone had even sent out their minibooks.

I'm sharing this story because there are going to be people who get jobs ahead of you. You're going to have peers who land gigs at hot shops, while you're still waiting for someone to call you back.


Resist comparing yourself to your peers. Just because your roommate took a job at Crispin or Goodby doesn't mean your career is doomed. You will win awards. You will build a solid book. Your ideas will become nationally recognized commercials. You will make money. You can have all these things...If you work hard enough to get them. It doesn't matter when you get a job or where that job is. It only matters what you do with it. In the end, your work is the only thing that matters.

So be happy when your friends land some pretty sweet gigs. It just strengthens your network.

What is a Recruiter?

Some agencies have creative recruiters. Some do not. Most of the big ones do. Here are some of the things you need to know about them:

  1. Not all recruiters have a creative background.
  2. Not all recruiters have an impeccable eye for great creative.
  3. Many recruiters do have a creative background and an impeccable eye for great creative.
  4. Almost all recruiters will be the main gatekeeper you must pass in getting an interview at an agency.

Should you send your work to the agency recruiter? Absolutely. Should you rely on the agency’s recruiter to follow up with you? To stay in contact? To call back? To remember your name? Nope. Those are all up to you. Send your pdfs and web links to others in the creative department. Sow as many seeds as you can.

How do you find out if an agency has a recruiter? Call and ask. But don’t stop there. Ask to be transferred to that person. Ask them questions. Their job is to get talent in the door, so they should be happy to talk to you. Build a rapport if you can. It’s not politicking. It’s getting a job.

Portfolio Night Recaped on the East Coast

Dan Jordan was a student of mine a couple years ago at the Chicago Portfolio School. Since graduating, he’s interned at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, and taken a full-time job at Hill Holliday working with powerhouses like Ernie Schenck and Tim Cawley. He’s also been honored by Archive and the One Club. Not a bad start. He reviewed books at Portfolio Night 6 in Boston, so I decided to ask him about it.

Greg: How was judging Portfolio Night in Boston?

Dan: As far as judging the event, I would have to say it was enjoyable. I like looking at work and we had a decent amount of topnotch Boston creatives on hand.

Greg: Generally speaking, what were the best and the worst things you saw 
that night?

Dan: A constant pitfall I found in pretty much 100% of the books I saw was produced work that was bad. Just because it is real, does not mean that it's good. Another terrible trend I've noticed both at Portfolio Night and in my Creative Concepts class is that art direction seems to have gone the way of the dinosaur. I see design books that look great, but have no conceptual ads, and art directors’ books with concepts that look horrendous. 
Also, students are rarely teaming up. I know that at ad schools they will make sure they pair you up, but if you're not attending a portfolio school, I feel the book really shows it.

Greg: Why do you think art direction is suffering in so many student books? Is it experience? Resources? Too much reliance on "concept-is-king"?

Dan: I'd like to believe that it's still possible to break into advertising without portfolio school, but I don't think that's the case. I think that good art direction stems from a solid grasp of the Adobe tools, yet a keen knack for concepting as well – skills that are almost impossible to obtain from anything but a two-year portfolio school. I still think that concept will always be king. A polished turd is still a turd. However, you must be able to make things look as visually appealing as something you'd see in Archive or CA.

Greg: What's the secret to going from portfolio school graduate to working at Hill Holliday and being featured in Archive and the One Show in just a couple of years?

Dan: The secret to making a successful transition from portfolio school to junior creative isn't really a secret at all. It's hard work. And I think it's imperative that you genuinely love advertising. There's a part in Comedians of Comedy when one of the comics (either Patton Oswalt or Brian Posehn) talks about how they both lived together in a crappy apartment and would write jokes every night for hours. And that was just them having fun. When I was creating my book, I was fortunate enough to have a phenomenal art director who liked creating ads. When we finished school, we had enough work to fill 3 books. That's a fantastic problem to have. 
Creating ads is the best part of advertising (besides for expensing overpriced meals). Everything that comes afterwards (the meetings, the presentations, the tweaks, the shoot, the edit, etc.) are merely necessary evils to ensure your creation lives.
 So work your ass off and make sure you enjoy it. And you'll be a successful junior.

Parting With Your Student Book

Yesterday, LC posted a few very good questions:

"Once you've got a job, how long is it cool to keep student/spec work in there? And is it mandatory to put produced work in your book? What if you've done TV, but it isn't anything of note. Having the experience is valuable to a potential employer, I'm sure. But what if the spot isn't book-worthy?"

Keeping Student Work
After 8 years, I still have one student campaign in my book. I'm proud of it. I've been told by people I respect to keep it in. I've even tried (unsuccessfully) to sell it to the client to make it legitimate (and so I could enter it into award shows). It's not a showcase piece anymore, but I still include it. That said, I think that's pretty rare.

Produced Work vs. Spec
It's not mandatory to put produced work in your book. I interviewed with Guy Seese when he was at Cole + Weber, and he said he thought it was cool that I had spec work in my book. When Mark Figliulo hired me at Y&R, it was partially because of the same spec campaign. That said, professional spec work looks much different than student spec work.

Putting Subpar TV on Your Reel
If you've done TV, but it isn't anything of note, have a reel for it, but don't tout it as "your reel." If you show someone "your reel" and it's full of impressive spots you're communicating two things:

1) you think it's work worth showing (bad)
2) you can't sell a great idea to the client (even worse)

For my first two years at Y&R, I only did promotional TV for Sears. I had done over 50 spots where the main message was a laundry list of things like "Get 20% off sweaters!...All treadmills half off!...Plus free delivery on all home appliances over $299...Hurry! This sale won't last long!" I had a ton of TV experience, and nothing on my reel to show for it.

But I did keep a CD of the work in case anyone asked. And in two interviews during that time, people did ask. It's interesting to note I didn't get either job (and because I ended up being able to do great work on Sears, I'm glad). TV experience is great. But only great TV experience is worth putting on your reel.

How Much of You Is Worth Showing?

One of the Makin’ Ads readers recently asked “How much of ‘you’ should be in a book? Should an art director include their paintings and photography or keep it straight ads. Likewise, can copywriters include a couple of short stories or essays they've written?”

This is difficult to answer. It’s very subjective. And depends on how interesting you are.

A recruiter once asked me to send him my work. I didn’t have a web page, so I threw what I had on my .mac account and sent it off. Had I known the recruiter was going to send the link around the agency, I would have cleaned up the site. I was called in for an interview because they liked my portfolio, but also because they liked the photographs and odd family movies that were part of the site. That said, I don’t include those things on my current site.

As a writer, I would never include short stories or essays. They’re just not going to be read. If, however, you’ve been published, it becomes a bit more interesting. But you’ve really got to use your judgment on this. Bolshevik’s won awards for some of his short stories, and I don’t think he includes them in his portfolio.

For art directors, I tend to be a bit more lenient. I’m always more impressed by an art director who includes a photography section on their site or in their book. But that’s because photography is a skill I like to see in an art director. I know one AD who includes images of a gallery exhibit he did in his book. But there’s a difference between an exhibit – which shows some tenacity and organizational skills – and just including some pictures you made in class.

I would make certain that if you choose to include any bonus material that it is clearly set apart from the advertising. And that it’s showcasing a marketable talent and not just an interesting hobby.

Making Contact

How do you make that initial connection with an agency you want to work for? Here are two suggestions:
  1. Look up their main number online. Call them and tell whoever answers, “I’d like to send my portfolio to you. Can you tell me the best person to send it to?” Get their title, direct line, and email address. And be prepared to ask the same thing if the front desk immediately transfers you to a creative or recruiter. Don’t stress. This is not your first impression. You won’t blow it. You're a disembodied voice. If the front desk suddenly transfers you to Mike Shine, or Kevin Lynch happens to pick up the phone, they’re not going to equate the pdf you eventually send them with the stammering, star-struck portfolio student who called last week.

  2. Make a list of the agencies you’d like to work for (like you haven’t already). Make a list of all the creatives from those agencies who’s work you admire. Call the agency and ask to speak with them. Tell them the same thing: That you’d like to send them your portfolio.

  3. With a little research, you can usually figure out the email addresses of creatives within an agency. Shoot them an email and a pdf of your work. (This is the least effective approach as you've made no voice contact and haven't really asked any questions.)

Keep in mind that transparency is your friend. Asking questions is a good thing. Ask if they'd prefer to receive a pdf or a minibook. Whoever you contact, ask them if they’re hiring. Ask for feedback on your work. Ask them if there’s anyone else you should show your book to. If you’re really trying to get into a specific city, let them know and ask them for references at other in-town agencies. (In my experience, this has never been a turn off.)

I think the biggest mistake you can make is to be shy, indirect, and hopeful without having put forth any effort to merit that hope.

Go. Fight. Win.

What Getting A Job Looks Like

In very general terms, this is what you will go through when you get your first job out of school:
  1. You'll send out your minibooks and try to meet with as many people as you can.
  2. Many of those places will not get back to you because they are not hiring.
  3. After a while someone will send you an email or call your mobile and ask if you're able to come by for an interview. Sometimes this includes a plane ride and a hotel room provided by your host agency.
  4. On the specified day, you arrive at the agency and spend the next several hours being ushered from creative to creative. Sometimes they'll ask to see your book. But this is just a formality. Most of them have already seen it and liked it. That's why they called you in. They really just want to give you a personality check. You'll be taken to lunch. Probably dinner/drinks afterwards. Everyone's still trying to see if they like you or not.
  5. You shake hands and head home.
  6. You immediately send thank you cards to everyone you met with. I'd send a card. Not an email.
  7. You wait. In fact, you wait longer that you had expected. Why haven't they called back yet? Did they not like you? Should you call? Maybe you should call. No, that would seem desperate. But they did fly you out right? Seriously, why the radio silence? (The agency, by the way, is interviewing a handful of other candidates.)
  8. Anywhere from two days to a couple weeks later, someone from the agency calls you back and extends an offer to you. They'll give you a salary and probably a start date. Feel free to ask them for a couple days to think this over. They're probably not expecting an immediate answer. If you have any additional questions, now is a good time to ask them.
  9. You call them back in a day or two and accept the offer. Everyone's happy.
  10. You go on to a successful career, never forgetting to mention the Makin' Ads blog each time you're featured in the One Show Gold on Gold section.

Rehashing Portfolio Night

I attended Portfolio Night 6 last night with Sonya Grewal, a creative director / art director here at Y&R Chicago. This afternoon we had the following conversation:

So what did you think about Portfolio Night?

SONYA GREWAL: Out of nine people, none of the portfolios were very memorable. Now that said, I think it was a good idea to bring students from the Chicago Portfolio School who were in their third quarter who had a fourth left. I thought that was smart to see where they’re at and be able to guide them to their final book. So hopefully, I helped a few people.

GREG: I wonder if there wasn’t a better showing in New York simply because the One Show’s going on. If you’re from Miami or Richmond or Atlanta, I think you’re more likely to go to New York because top creatives from around the country are also in town at the same time. I even know a couple people from Chicago who went to the New York show for that reason.

SONYA: If I were a student, I’d go there. I think that makes sense. Not that there aren’t top creatives in Chicago.

GREG: It’s not that New York has more talent. It’s just that more talent goes to New York for the One Show.

SONYA: Right.

GREG: I think Portfolio Night was kind of a microcosm of what you see in advertising anyway. There were a handful of good books. A ton of just okay books. And a few that were not very good at all. I even sat with one guy who had put his book together on his own as an undergrad, and wasn’t even sure that he wanted to be in advertising. But I didn’t see book after book after book that stunned me.

SONYA: I saw one good campaign. But that was it. It was as if you spend all your time and you get one good idea and one good campaign, but your other work just doesn’t match up. Conceptually, visually, everything. It was surprising. I saw at least three books where I’d think “That campaign’s good,” but the rest was “What were you thinking here?” So quality consistency I didn’t see. Granted, they’re students, but if you’re capable of doing one great campaign, then I would think that you’d be able to do many more. Most of them started their books off with the ad they thought was the strongest creatively. So I was expecting to see more of that and then the quality just suddenly plummeted. Unfortunately for all the students today – and I think I was a harsher critic than I’ve been in the past – there’s just a lot more competition than there was 10 years ago. So you have to have a solid book. There’s just no room for even one slightly mediocre campaign. It brings the whole book down.

GREG: One thing that I found interesting was that more and more, we’re seeing alternative media. Which is good. Student books used to just be print piece after print piece. And now students are trying to give some depth and breadth to their ideas. But I saw a lot of books last night where alternative media was included, but there didn’t seem to be much thought behind it. It was almost as if they said to themselves, “Okay, I’ve done my print campaign. Now I’ve got to do them as banners,” without ever questioning whether banners were appropriate or not. The alternative media included, but it wasn’t connected.

SONYA: I have to say, one thing I was very happy with was I saw a lot of copywriters, and a lot of campaigns they had in their books were headline driven. And that was refreshing. Considering the past few years I’ve seen the big visual, conceptual campaign with a small line. And I would think, “Okay, but can your write?” So I was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of headline-driven campaigns, and I think that was very essential.

GREG: Well, I saw a couple of writers’ books, and the art direction was pretty poor. So if you’re looking at a writer’s book, if the lines are good and the thinking’s good, are you able to forgive shabby art direction? Or do you feel the writer should have done a better job?

SONYA: I would probably forgive them 40%. I feel like I would have been more generous six or seven years ago. But now I feel like we all have to learn how to write copy, how to do good art direction. I mean, a copywriter should know what a good layout is. And an art director should know what a good line is. You just need to know those things. So I’ll let you off for a bit. But if every ad is poorly art directed in a copywriter’s book, then that tells me he or she can’t think visually. That’s a problem.

There was one writer last night who said, “I don’t like any of the art directors in my class, so I’m going to art direct my book.” And actually, he’d done quite a decent job. But that’s an exception. You also need to be clear on whether you’re an art director or a copywriter. When you start off the conversation with, “I wanted to be an art director, but I moved over to copywriting,” that’s not good. You need to say, “I’m a copywriter.”

Again, there are schools around the country that are pushing their students to produce more finished work, and you have to remember you’re competing against them.

GREG: What advice would you give the students who attended Portfolio Night?

SONYA: Send your pdfs to all the creative directors you met last night. I will definitely give you feedback. I will always give you feedback because I met you and I’m vested in you, and that’s my responsibility. That’s why I do these things. Choose a few people who you admire. Because ultimately the student has to decide what to put in his or her book, and they’re going to get tens of thousands of people giving them advice. Just keep updating your work and keep showing it. What would you tell them?

GREG: I don’t ever want to discourage anyone from getting into advertising. Especially if they really want to get into the business. But I think a lot of times I’ll see a student book that’s just not as polished as it could be. You could be forgiving and say, “Well, they’re students, they’re young, they’ve maybe only been at this for a year or two.” But the truth is, I’ve seen student books – kids that are coming out of portfolio school this very month – whose books are amazing. There’s already been a standard set in my own mind of what to expect from a student book in 2008. Even Richard [Fischer] and Evan [Thompson], the guys we hired out of school last year, set a standard. I mean, why would we hire anyone who is less than a Richard or Evan or Michelle [Nam]? And I’ve seen a small handful of students of that caliber coming out of this class. So if I’m looking at a student book on Portfolio Night, I’m already judging them against the team we hired out of school last year, and I’m judging them against the books that if it were up to me, we would have already hired this year before graduation. So, I don’t ever want to be discouraging. But sometimes you just find yourself saying, “You’ve just got to work harder.” And as a student, when someone would say, do such-and-such and change this ad, I’d frankly think “I’m not going to. It’s finished.” And I guess that’s okay. But you should still keep doing ads.

SONYA: Exactly.

GREG: I think the best thing a student can do, if they feel they have a finished portfolio is send out your pdfs, see who bites, and follow it up two or three months later with an updated portfolio. Even if they’ve only added one new campaign. Because I’ll see the new campaign, and seeing all the old ones will refresh me on who this person is.

SONYA: I think it’s also important to talk to the more junior creatives like the Richards and the Evans. Ask them how they went about it. Because it’s been a while since I was a student. But talking to people who’ve just done it is very wise. Because they’ve got fresh information. When I graduated no one was sending out pdfs.

GREG: And now my entire book is on Keynote.

SONYA: Or on websites.

GREG: Anything else?

SONYA: Should we talk about Lost now?

GREG: Absolutely.

Do you suck as much as Yutaka?

Jim and I have repeatedly encouraged simple, well-crafted, non-gimmicky books. We still do.

But have you read about Yutaka Tsujino's site? It's probably too daring for anyone fresh out of school. It also helps that Yutaka's coming from CP+B.

So, yes. If it works, if it's really, really good (and you're not just kidding yourself), you can be like Yutaka and completely suck.

Bonus Prize

Just a reminder for those attending Portfolio Night in Chicago: Mention this blog when you're at my review table and receive a free prize.

Also, cast your vote on the two new polls on the main page.


Portfolio Night is almost here. Can you feel the power?

One piece of advice: When you sit down with the person reviewing your book, feel free to exchange pleasantries, but once they open your portfolio and begin perusing the fruits of your labor, resist the urge to speak.

Do not talk. Do not explain. Do not comment.

Enjoy the awkward silence that is the interview process. If the reviewer has questions, by all means, answer them. After they've gone through your work, ask them all the questions you want. But during the review, it's quite time. Don't even preface a campaign with, "The strategy with this one was..." The strategy should be apparent.

This isn't protocol. It's just common sense. When you talk as someone is trying to look at your ads (even the purely visual ones) this is what happens:

Thursday night, let your book speak for you.

Hey Hey! It's Layoff Season!

If you work in this business for more than a couple years, odds are you will be impacted by layoffs. It's the nature of the industry. When a client leaves an agency--layoffs. When a client cuts their budgets--layoffs. When an agency gets a little too fat--layoffs. When a new head creative takes over an agency--usually layoffs. When that new head creative hires some big guns--layoffs! We need to buy some new $2000 ergonomic chairs--layoffs!

So let's pretend you're one of the unfortunate ones. Remain calm. A little anger, bitterness, shock, bruised ego, whatever is fine. But don't beat yourself up over it. No, it's not fair. Very rarely are the people who lose their jobs deserving of it. Sometimes it's related to performance, but more often it has more to do with salary, position, timing and politics.

Layoffs are just one good reason you always want to have your book no more than a day or two from finished. Make sure you have copies of everything--all your spots, print ads, web files, etc--in a box or drawer somewhere. The best thing to do is to constantly update your book and website, but let's face it, most creatives aren't that responsible. But at least have everything standing by.

Most of the people I know who have been laid off end up saying it was one of the better things to happen to them. I don't think they were just trying to cheer themselves up either. They will tell you that being laid off forced them to put their book together and look for greener pastures. And one thing you'll find out--most everyone in the industry would rather be looking for greener pastures, if only we weren't so lazy about keeping our book current.

And one final note: All those social networking sites may just be of some use. LinkedIn, anyone?