It's either Ad Center or this. I want to do this.
December 29, 2007 6:51 PM   Subscribe

I have been asked to put together a portfolio for a couple of jobs on the creative side of the advertising world. I am very quick with new ideas for marketing and advertising, but I have never put an ad together. Help me put a portfolio together!

I have practically no computer design skills, but I have been asked to put a creative advertising and marketing portfolio together pronto. I have never, ever done anything like this before and I cannot draw, but I know that if people saw my ability to come up with amazing brand marketing ideas they would hire me. What should a person who has never designed an ad, but who has a tremendous capacity for promotion otherwise, do to put a portfolio together? I would love ideas, experiences, thoughts, everything. Thank you all so much!

If you want to be more in-depth, you can feel free to drop me a letter to my mefi mail and I will respond.

Once I have this portfolio together, anyone who gives me some pointers, ideas and advice will get a PDF of the finished product, but I'll e-mail you first to make sure you want it.
posted by parmanparman to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There are many people who spent 2 years and about $50,000 to 'put a portfolio' together. I happen to be one of them. But you know, there's also weird stories of people who got hired just from a few headlines scrawled on plain paper. It also depends on where you're trying to get hired, the portfolio schools are geared towards employment in the big boy ad agencies, but there's certainly a larger world outside of them.

If you have no computer design skills or can't draw, don't even try. Really, don't do it. It'll probably be embarrassing (but I don't know you, you may be awesome who knows). But lucky for you, in this brave new world where print is dead, advertising ideas are fuzzy and books don't require the requisite "Visual Pun with a Logo In The Bottom Right Award Winning Print Ad." If you have 'amazing brand marketing ideas', put a presentation together where you explain your amazing ideas in words with some accompanying pictures and roll with that.
posted by Stan Chin at 7:44 PM on December 29, 2007

I've got to agree with Stan that this is kind of a tall order. I guess the main thing is that any "portfolio" you've got is going to be processed within a larger, personal context.

From your description, I can't really tell whether you're being asked to show a portfolio to seal the deal on an existing opportunity, or whether you're trying to squeak in on a long-shot. In the end, that really makes a huge difference.

If you're up against a bunch of other established creative folks, in a blind competition, then in all honesty, like Stan said, I almost wouldn't bother. You're going to be judged on the "esthetics", and you're probably going up against some very polished, expensive portfolios.

On the other hand, if you've already got the inside track on an opportunity, and you're trying to help cement a decision that's already underway (which happens all the time), then you could be in pretty good shape. If you're really just trying to substantiate the quality of your thinking for someone who already thinks you get it, then something more informal could be just fine. (At that point, though, I don't really have any practical tips to give you...sorry. In that kind of situation, there really aren't any rules.)
posted by LairBob at 8:21 PM on December 29, 2007

You can do this.

Put together several original concepts – hypothetical marketing plans that show off your innovative thinking and communication ability. Pay attention to format: use a modern typeface, and lay out your pages cleanly. Make the presentation look like something that you spent more than a few hours on. And then use your winningest ways to charm your contact into taking a chance you.

What you need to remember is that it's very easy for an agency to hire you on a temporary basis. It doesn't cost them much to try you out for a week or two. And if you really demonstrate the skills you claim, you can easily turn that week or two into a full-time position.

I've found that portfolios are more important to the non-creatives: the managers and HR people who want some sort of qualitative proof of your abilities. If you can swing a personal recommendation from someone on the creative team, the portfolio almost doesn't matter.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:51 PM on December 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It's inside and out. I cold-called an agency about a month ago and managed to get six weeks of paid work experience with them in March. Then, earlier this month I was on a plane to Washington, DC and ended up sitting next to a woman who does HR for an agency and she said "I know you don't have a lot, but put together a portfolio." So this is something that I am definitely going to put good time into. I'll keep you all informed. I'll look forward to other comments in the thread.
posted by parmanparman at 11:32 PM on December 29, 2007

Seconding Roger Ackroyd's wise advice, particularly his last paragraph. HR is usually not much help. They're looking for someone who fits the mold. And the same mold they've been using for decades.

Try and find a creative on the inside who can vouch for your talent. This is not impossible. You cold called the agency, now cold call a few creative directors. Ask them for advice, get them on your side, and voila: you have a valuable contact.

If you are hell bent on getting your portfolio looking professional, ask some up and coming design students, this is an opportunity for them, too.

But IMO, having a reputable creative director on your side is much more valuable.
posted by Lieber Frau at 12:53 AM on December 30, 2007

You do have something to put into that portfolio, right? Usually people fresh out of school have creative exercises and mock-ads. You seem not to be oriented towards the visual part of advertising, neither particularly interested, so the 'astonishingly visual' factor in your portfolio is probably neither expected nor required. My suggestion would be: gather together some of your ideas and document them in context and suggested course of action. That is, a series of case histories. Either with a visual accompaniment or simply written on a page.

By the way, a 50k - 2 years course of study in a good school is a great thing to do, but (luckily) advertising is not an industry that you buy yourself a ticket to, ahem.
posted by _dario at 1:13 AM on December 30, 2007

An Australian perspective here, so make of it what you will. (Everything that follows assumes that you have ideas for ads, which isn't necessarily what comes through in your post. So apologies in advance if I am way off-base here.)

What not to do:

- If you don't know at least understand the meaning of the following typographic terms—leading, kerning, x-height, serif—do not mock ads up on your computer. Even if you have already spent a couple of hours trying to locate a serial-code generator for Photoshop CS3 that actually worked. Really.

- If you can't draw reasonably well, then at least don't look like you spent hours trying to. (But see below)

What you should at least consider doing:

Analyse the ideas that you already have:
- Are many of them just variations on a theme (such as puns)? If so just choose the best one (and if it is a pun then it had better be side-splittingly hilarious).
- Are they all ads for beer? Or condoms? Or mobile (cell) phones? If so then come up with an ad for a retirement village. One that might actually convince your grandmother to consider moving there.
- Are there any ideas that are pretty obviously based on a particular existing ad? These people live and breathe ads. Yes, they know a post-modern reference when they see one. But they can also spot a rip off when they see one, and they won't be able to get you out of the door fast enough.

Put half of the ads aside. You should have some idea which ones by now. They were good efforts, and a few will be hard to let go of. But you have to ...

Take your best ad. Write the next three executions in the campaign. (That pun ad isn't looking so good now, is it?) If you have magazine ideas write a radio script. Make sure you have a billboard poster in there. Two would be better.

Write the campaign that will run with your second best ad. And your third. And if you can do it for your fourth you're most of the way there: recognising the difference between an idea for a single ad and a campaignable idea is about the biggest jump you'll need to make.

Show your ads to your only other mate who reads metafilter, and get her feedback. Show them to your Mum, and politely smile whilst she laughs at the one ad in your folio that clearly isn't meant to be the slightest bit funny. But make sure you remember to fix the three spelling errors in your headlines that she pointed out.

Look at your campaigns. They're clever, granted. And there's no doubt they're funny. But do they feel 'right' for the client? Or don't they really mesh with the brand?

Guess what? It's your lucky day. Your client's funkier / more conservative / appealing-to-a-younger-market / ten-times-the-marketing-war-chest competitor just rang up, and wants to use your ads for their brand instead! It has never happened to anyone once they got a job, but you would be amazed how often it can happen before then.

Right, now grab a stack of lightweight paper and a medium-weight black marker. Rule out a border an inch from the edge. Place a piece of paper over the top and quickly trace out the border freehand. Repeat. Ad nauseum.

Now sketch out your ads. Keep them simple. Remember to leave some room for the logo in the bottom right (unless you have a good reason to put it somewhere else that's the best place for it at the moment).

Grab another stack of paper, lay single sheets over the top of your existing sketches, and trace them, adjusting as best you can, so that the type isn't squashed into the corner (unless that is part of the concept), and the drawing is roughly in the middle with a comfortable bit of space around it.

Probably do this again one more time. Is the text approximately horizontal, and evenly-sized? Does the dog look roughly like a dog, or at least some indeterminate four-legged creature, and not like a chair with a ponytail?

If you can't get the idea across with a handwritten headline (if there is one) and a pretty basic drawing sketched out with a marker then you probably haven't got a decent idea. If your idea relies on me reading the sixth sentence of your copy then it is probably time to pull this ad out of the pile too. Of course there are exceptions to this. Some of my favourite ads took three minutes to read. But you don't have that luxury. Luckily your ability to string a couple of lively sentences together will already have been noted when the short, sharp covering letter you wrote was skimmed over.

Now go and buy a folio. A size bigger than the paper you've used, so that the ads have a nice, non-distracting border. Something black is probably good. It's what everyone else will have, so you won't stand out. Hmmm?

If you have bought spray adhesive do the spraying outside. Upwind. Use just enough that your ad stays in place, but you can replace it with a new one in a few days time.

That's it. At least for now. Ring up that HR woman. She will like half your ads, and tell you to dump the rest. The man you see next will hate most of the ads the first woman liked, and simply won't get her favourite at all. Don't bother explaining it—you won't be able to use footnotes when your real ads get published. Thankfully he will love the one concept you kept in your portfolio in spite of the advice of the first woman. The third person will never see any of your ideas, because you'll never get past their PA no matter how many times you ring. The sixth woman will love your folio - probably because you kept ruthlessly editing it whilst you were waiting for the promised call from the fourth guy that never came. She won't have any positions available at the moment, but three weeks later one of the men she catches up with for Friday night drinks will give you a call out of the blue ...

Do I sound like a bitter, washed-up ex-art director? ;^)

Good luck!
posted by puffmoike at 9:07 AM on December 30, 2007 [5 favorites]

The purpose of a portfolio is to provide evidence of the skills you claim to have. You may want to include some ad mock-ups (clearly labeled as mock-ups), but don't get hung up on the technical details of ad design. That's a different specialty than the one you're claiming (though puffmoike's answer is pretty awesome).

Your portfolio should tell the story of your advertising and marketing ideas in action. You have not designed an ad, but have you used ads, in any form? Have you given input on successful advertising used in past projects? If so, these are tales you want to include.

Were I in your place, I would start by assembling a few packets detailing select past successes, especially examples where the principles can apply to HR Lady's organization. These would be in report form, with a title/description/goal page, a page for each step and its specific effect, and a conclusion noting the collective effects of your strategy. Mock-ups or real ads included where they will make your tales more convincing. This approach would create a user-friendly portfolio of your work that could easily translate to web display, if desired.
posted by zennie at 1:05 PM on December 30, 2007

Imagine you are trying to get into modeling and somebody asks you for your portfolio. Maybe you feel that you are pretty enough, as well as talented enough (or felt you could learn quickly) to pose, act, speak, and perform. You wouldn't want to fill that portfolio with elaborate examples of Vogue covers with Photoshopped pictures of you underneath headlines and other junk. You'd want simple pictures that say "hey, I don't have headshots yet, but lookie...I'm pretty! I photograph well too." And you'd explain these pictures, thereby proving that you speak well and are presentable.

My point is, let the ideas show and DO NOT kill them with examples of bad design. The best way to distill an idea down is to simply sketch it on a piece of paper. Do not spend more than 90 seconds the first draft/sketch of each idea. If you are a bad drawer, make your sketch even simpler and redo, using a thick black pen. If you attempt to go any further than this with layout (do NOT get near Photoshop, InDesign or Quark, I beg of you) you will be jumping a big fat shark here...and people will assume that what they see is an example of your design/layout skills. No matter how good the concept is, it will be dragged down by the horribly kerned, overused font, compositional blunders and other deadly distractions. Nobody expects you to be an excellent drawer, but if you went to the trouble to create computer generated design layouts (photos, fonts, logos, etc.), they'd expect them to be good.

In your situation, I would suggest that your portfolio include mock creative briefs, followed by a few sketches for each brief, showcasing different sketch-executions for each idea. If one of those executions can be further expanded into a campaign I would TALK about that in your presentation–but only if they were intrigued by that sketch. In other words, don't clutter your portfolio with copious sketches that are all variations/spin-offs of one idea (SHOW concepts, TALK about campaigns). DO show examples of different directions you can take with one product, where each direction is novel AND meets all the requirements of the creative brief.

Open your fridge, your medicine cabinet, your garage...pick an item in each, think of the target demographic, the needs of the product, needs of its audience, advantages, disadvantages, competition, cost, any and every variable...write a creative brief. Do some sketches. And come up with a one or two page short bullet list or PPT slide that summarizes your findings/discoveries/ideas that have resulted from the creative brief, your research, your sketches, and the public reaction to your advertising ideas (ask others what they think of your concepts; that's market research). Include this in your portfolio. Now you should have at least three little "stories" that you can present/show. Each story/product has a beginning, middle*, and end. Voila, use your winning radio voice and present the hell out of it!

And every word of what puffmoike said. At least three times. Good luck to ya!

*The middle will be a bit weak in the area of execution/layout, but you are NOT applying to be a graphic designer, art director, or production artist, so this is to be somewhat expected. Don't let this part bog you down. Focus on conveying ideas (which doesn't mean making them pretty, it just means getting them understood by your audience). Think about the Absolut Vodka campaign, got milk?, Nike swoosh, the Purple Pill...these are all things that can be sold to somebody easily WITHOUT a fancy layout. In fact, they're better off that way.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:16 PM on December 31, 2007

« Older Put it on the big screen, Scottie.   |   Name the mystery object that was in my boyfriend's... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.