Your Dream Portfolio

I recently heard of a fantastic assignment given by Bryan Birch, an instructor over at the Academy of Art University here in San Francisco. I have a scriptwriting class that I'm teaching at Miami Ad School starting in a couple of weeks, and I plan to steal this idea and use it as the first assignment for my class.

The assignment is simple: put together a portfolio of ads you wish you had done. Not ads you have done--ads that other people have done that you absolutely love.

Bryan has his class bring in three and then asks the students to discuss them. With each student's three ads, the class talks about the similarities. "The string that turns the 'beads' into a 'necklace," Bryan says. For example, absurdity might be a common element in each of the ads. This is basically the style of ads you like to do. And there can be several strings in each group. Bryan then has the students bring in ads that they have done that fit on this string.

This gives the students a "North Star," as Bryan calls it. It helps them to recognize and articulate the kind of ads they like to do, see opportunities to work those traits more into their book and push for that in their future assignments. If you quirky, dry humor, it should be in your book. If you hate sappy stories, you shouldn't have those in your book. The point of your job search is to find you a job that you will love (and hence where you will thrive). An agency that wants you because they want you to do the kind of work you like to do--the kind of work that should be reflected in your portfolio.

For my students, I think I'm going to ask them to build a full reel--7-10 spots (or something that has a script)--and put together a Pinterest board. Pinterest is perfect for this kind of thing.

Having a dream portfolio sets a bar. Probably a pretty high one. And with every ad you do, you can look and say, "Is this good enough? Would I put this in my dream portfolio? How can I make it more like the stuff in my dream portfolio?" Wouldn't it be nice if one day, many years for now, your dream portfolio was made up entirely of your own work?

A Little Perspective

A very honest and thought-provoking read by Linds Redding over at the SF Egotist. Well worth the 8 minutes it will take you to read it.

7 Rules for Writing Radio

Writers and art directors, here is what I would like to tell you about radio:

  1. Radio is usually :30 or :60. Time your scripts accordingly. (This applies to TV, too.)
  2. When timing your scripts, read it aloud, and read it slowly. Don't kid yourself. Read slow.
  3. If your script comes in at :32 seconds, don't tell yourself you'll just have the talent read it faster. Edit. Even if it hurts.
  4. Rule of thumb: 80 words for a :30, and 155 for a :60.
  5. Find the little ways of making your spot real. If your spot takes place in bed, consider having the talent lie down while they read your script. If they're supposed to be tired and sweaty, have them do jumping jacks before each take. If they turn their head away from the person they're talking to, have them turn their head away from the microphone.
  6. Make sure your script goes somewhere. Don't just tell the same joke three times in sixty seconds. If it's not building, it's not award-winning.
  7. Great art directors can (and do) help create great radio. Radio is visual. Ergo, art directors can help create great radio.

Troy's News Worth Spreading

Congrats to our friend Troy Burrows whose Sharpie work was selected as one of TED's Ads Worth Spreading.

Troy was a student at the Chicago Portfolio School just a few years ago. What will you be doing a few years after graduation?

Banksy on Advertising

Thoughts? Comments? Is he right? Or is he a hypocrite? A brilliant marketer? All of the above?

(If you don't know who Banksy is, bump this up to #1 in your Netflix cue now.)

Guest Post: Nate Stroot

From time to time, we like to invite guests to post on Makin' Ads. Today's guest poster is a former student of mine, Nate Stroot. We recently exchanged emails about how his first gig out of school made him reconsider what he was looking for. I asked him to write about what he learned from his first experience and about having the courage to set a new course when his "dream job" didn't live up to his expectations.


I am a huge fan of this blog and am honored to be able to contribute to a space that I hold in such high regard. It was my bible when I was at Miami Ad School.

I recently finished school and even more recently was juniored. I won’t be dispelling any advice on the creative process, partially because I am not qualified but mostly because I am still trying to figure it out for myself. What I can confidently speak to is my transition from paying to make ads to getting paid to make them.

I was slated to finish at MAS in the summer so in the spring I started sending my unfinished book to several shops trying to secure an internship for the summer. There was one shop in my hometown I that I loved and adored because, not to long ago, they were considered a premier shop in the industry. Since I didn’t actually know anyone there, I found one of their recruiters on LinkedIn and found an email address. I emailed her and she informed me that they weren’t looking for creative interns at that moment. Although I knew that, I still went ahead and filled out one of their general applications for interns. About a month later she emailed me back and said that they changed their mind. She set up phone interviews and eventually they offered me a 3-month internship with the option to extend another 3-months if both parties were feeling it. If everything went well, at 6 months there would be discussions of a permanent job.

I was excited and relieved that I knew what I was going to be doing after I finished. I finished school on a Friday and started the following Monday. The first 3 weeks were great. About a month in, the shop lost a client, and the current roster was pulling back spending. It hit the creative department and the media departments the hardest. I understood that this was nature of the beast, but it really affected the agency. One whole floor was vacant, and the creative department became a ghost town. Everyone was stretched pretty thin, and I felt that there was a shift in the culture.

Despite that I still signed on for another month, hoping things would turn around quickly. The agency was at an interesting fork where a lot of decisions needed to be made at the top to gain a clearer direction, which led to an unstable environment. At the time, I had no interest of extending, even if they offered, because I felt like I wanted to be in a place that had a clear cut direction of where they wanted to be. That being said, they may have had no intention of ever bringing me on, I am not sure where they were at.

In hindsight, I think the biggest mistake I made was that I went there for the name on the door and they were my dream agency for no reason other than the name on the door. However, I am grateful that they let me in their building where I was able to draw my own conclusions, and I had exposure to some extremely talented people. Perhaps the best thing one of the guys there told me after I left: “The thing about jobs is sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t.” From my short experience, that is definitely true.

After that, I decided it was time to take a break and embark on a new existential journey. I made the conscious decision to not be a contributing member of society. I don’t mean to brag, but I was really good at waking up after 2:00 pm. It was rewarding with the additional bonus of being quite unchallenging. However, around the New Year I found myself nearly out of cash. I started blindly sending my book to recruiters I found on LinkedIn, this time without luck. However, the great thing about MAS is that they host portfolio reviews which is really speed dating for a job. I attended one and was able to meet with a handful of recruiters. After I went home I emailed those I was interested in, and two of them put legitimate offers on the table after a few interviews. It was a really good problem to have.

There were things from the last internship that I wanted to avoid. I didn’t want to go into another unstable environment. I felt like as juniors, we have a lot to prove and a lot to learn which is already difficult. Being at a shop that doesn’t have a clear direction makes it that much harder to thrive. I had no interest in taking that challenge.

Another thing that was important to me was to have a partner. At the last place, it was kind of an assembly line mentality where I would do my portion, send it to a project manager, and then would have no idea what happened to it. I wanted to avoid that too.

The most important thing though was that I wanted to have a lot of contact with whomever I reported to. At the first place, I reported to the ECD running the account. I consider him an ad legend and have a lot of respect for him. However, I quickly found that he was the most overworked man in the agency, so I didn’t get a lot of exposure to him. For me, the best way to learn is to listen what they have to say, in meetings and with feedback and then take that into account on the next assignment. My math is simple. The more time around them, the more one picks up.

I made it a point to look at the books of the CD’s I would potentially report to. At this time, I feel like it is paramount that the CD does the kind of work you want to do. I think you can tell a lot about a CD by their book. It shows their taste, and later down the line, what they will try to sell to the client, which will directly impact the work you’re doing. If it works out right, your book and your CD’s book will mirror each other, at least at that stint. This may sound odd but I didn’t care about the clients I was going to be working on. I have no “dream client”. I was much more concerned about who I was going to be working for.

Ultimately, I ended up accepting an offer from Carmichael Lynch in Minneapolis. I had the chance to talk to the CCO and I really dug his vision and the direction he wanted to take the agency. It seemed like he was really focused on breathing new life into the shop and was going to do everything he could to get the shop to doing great work again. Also, when I talked to the GCD I was going to work under, I got the impression that he was going to do some serious blocking and tackling for me, which is invaluable.

At the time when I was trying to decide between the two offers I reached out to a CD I had a lot of respect for at the place I interned at, and asked him to weigh in. He wrote, “Make sure it looks like it’s going to give you the greatest opportunity to do the best work of your life. Don’t take a job this early in your career where you get stuck on one client. You need variety. You need to work for creative directors that share your passion and eye for producing great work.” It was and still is solid advice, and I wish I would have thought about when I was finishing portfolio school. At least I would have had the opportunity to take that advice or blindly reject it, but sometimes we have to learn as we go.