Portfolio Advice

For aspiring advertising creatives

By Imogen Tazzyman, Creative Director

Back when I was a junior trying to get into the industry, we did book crits. So-called because you literally had a book - another name for a portfolio - and you’d take it to a Creative Director to criticise (I’m almost sure that ‘crit’ actually stands for ‘critique’, but ‘criticise’ was somewhat more accurate in our case.)

A lot’s changed since then. But that idea of putting your best thinking into one place is still what will get you in the door. And over the years (from trying to get hired, to now hiring others), I’ve picked up a lot of advice that will hopefully help.

The sooner you realise there are no right answers, the better.

Sorry if that’s not what you were here for. But actually it’s the best thing about our industry. Yes, experience helps you shape your thinking. But none of us know what the answer is (and if anyone tells you they do - run). Because there isn’t one.

It’s not banking. Creativity is a fluid, flexible beast.

So when it comes to your portfolio, there isn’t a one size fits all approach. I remember having one book crit in which a Creative Director told us to put all our work on grey backgrounds because it would really make it stand out. The very next day, having spent all night doing that, another Creative Director at another agency asked us why the hell we’d killed all our work with those offensive grey backgrounds. So - lesson one - do it your own way. And don’t worry about what all the other teams out there are doing.

The Big Idea

We’re not expecting you to come into the industry fully formed. The skills to write an ad will come. What we are looking for is evidence of fresh thinking. Big ideas. Little nuggets of thinking that we wouldn’t have thought of, a fresh perspective. We can help you hone the executional skills later.

Of course, you will need to bring it to life in a few executions. Choose the ones that best explain your idea - it might be a social campaign, a tv ad, a radio campaign. If you can distil your thinking into a poster, that’s generally a good sign - for you and the idea. But ideas that work across all touch points are generally winners.

And make sure you know what your idea is. If you get yourself tied up in knots explaining it to your nan, it’s probably not single-minded enough.

Show a range

We do need to see a few examples from you. Try including around 6-8 campaigns across a range of categories to show you can turn your hand to anything. And pick stuff you know and care about - people hire people, and what you choose to work on says a lot about a person!

Digital vs Analogue

I can’t remember the last time I looked at a physical book. That said, it really doesn’t matter what vehicle you’re using to show your ideas. Don’t feel like you need to spend money on a fancy website - there are loads of free ways to host your ideas out there. Stick it on a blog, or even start an Insta.

"It's probably crap..."

So your book / website / reel / is ready. Time to get out there and show it off.

Use any contact you’ve got. Don’t rely on LinkedIn (creatives really don’t check it). Try and get people’s email addresses. Even better if you can get to the Creative Director.

And when you finally get in front of them - don’t start talking through every campaign with “It’s probably crap”. It’s so tempting to do this (believe me, I still have to stop myself) but have confidence in your own ideas. If you don’t, no one else will. You are selling yourself as much as your book here. Make it look like you know what you’re talking about!

Never stop working

You’ve got the job! Go you. Now - time to work on that portfolio. No, really.

My old creative partner was obsessive about keeping our website up to date. And he was totally right - you never know what’s going to happen. One day you will need to move on. And you do not want to suddenly realise you’ve only got your student ads for a Pot Noodle Charity in there.

So, keep whatever you make - get TV files from producers, request final artwork from the studio, make case studies for social campaigns - keep updating all the time. Keep thinking too - and not just for live briefs. Once you’re employed, you don’t suddenly just have to stick to stuff that’s run. I personally think you can get away with spec stuff in your book for a good few years at the start of your career. (Other people may have a different opinion on this - see point one!)

It's tough out there at the moment. You do need to have a thick skin. But I think the best Creative Directors are the ones who will take the time to give you constructive criticism, and help you understand how to make your work better. They’re the ones you want to work for. So be confident in yourself, and your ideas, keep going – and good luck!

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