How can I make the best portfolio...EVER?
March 11, 2008 6:08 PM   Subscribe

How can I put together an amazing portfolio for potential employers, as an advertising student? (I have the content, but need to decide what to put in the portfolio...and more importantly decide what to house my portfolio in!)

Trips to Office Max/Office Depot/other big box retailers have yielded nothing. I don't want to be the guy who has everything he wants to show off shoved in a three ring binder!

Some of what I have:
-A few magazine ads
-A couple larger posters (18 x 11 I think)
-A few 30 second commercials
-A vector logo made in Illustrator
-Tons of ideas, shared and solo work. (For a project a group of 4 of us took on a low budget client, and instead of doing like the rest of the class and drawing up story boards for commercials or billboards that would have put them over budget, I designed "swag" give aways-little tape measures- with the company logo on it and a booth to set up at a trade show - this is more towards public relations, but my degree includes quite a bit of PR)

What's to come:
-More print ads
-More commercials
-Possibly more logos
-HTML websites built with DreamWeaver
-fun things made with Flash

What I need help with:
1) How do I decide if something is good enough to be included?

2) What should I use to bind my portfolio? I've seen metal ones that look okay, but I get the feeling that they're becoming cliché (is this true?) One idea-I have access to a LOT of plexiglass. Does anyone have any idea as to how to put together a portfolio using plexiglass? My uncle used to be a sales rep for a plastics company, so there's a garage full of this stuff, in large "sheets" that I can cut up/sand/drill into or whatever I need to do. I have access to many different tools, I'm fairly handy-man inclined, and I have my dad and a good friend of his down the street who can help.

3) I'm not necessarily going to be looking for a design job, because frankly I think I could be MUCH better. I feel like I have a lot of skills above and beyond the average advertising student, even better than many graphic communications students at my university-but then I see stuff on the web and realize that (right now, more than half way through my curriculum) I'm nowhere near as good as big time designers. How can I incorporate other ideas, such as copywriting into my portfolio? (Many of my ads have good copy included, but there are other things where I was only the copywriter and someone else did the art.)

4) How about things that were worked on in a group? My commercials have been group projects, as have been some of the other print projects-how do I decide if I have the right to put this stuff in my portfolio?

5) When I make my portfolio, whichever route I go, I need to be able to add to it easily-I have a year's worth of projects ahead of me, and I'd like to add on as I go instead of waiting 'til next May to do everything.

6) Should I add anything else I've done, if it doesn't pertain directly to advertising? I've started to take a lot of pictures with my DSLR, and I feel like they could be a good attribute to an ad guy. This could also show some of my layout/composing for ads, right?

7) How does the whole portfolio showing process work? Do all employers return your portfolio after you've shown them?

8) I plan on applying for jobs next spring in the Phoenix area. Does that change anything? (I'm in Fargo, ND - a lot of my school mates end up in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area)

9) For my TV commercials, should I put them each on their own DVD or put them all together? sells the little buttons from the inside of CD/DVD cases with self adhesive on the back so I could attach one/more of those to a page of the portfolio and stick it on there, I imagine.

10) Thank you in advance for any answers you can help me with. Thank you for taking the time to read this! ANY and ALL advice is appreciated, regarding the portfolio, finishing school, and the advertising business in general!

bonus points: what the hell can I do with all the plexiglass? there are tons of big flat pieces, small cylindrical pieces, small flat pieces, pre-bent pieces, and they're all different colors.
posted by whiskey point to Education (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Use one of the online print on demand services to publish a well designed cloth bound hard back of your work, and include a DVD.
posted by fire&wings at 6:11 PM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: another ?, should I print out the ads at Copy Max/Kinkos/etc. and attach them somehow to pages or print actual pages with scaled down versions of my ads? fire&wings, do you have a suggestion for one of these sites so I can check them out?
posted by whiskey point at 6:34 PM on March 11, 2008

I'm trying to hire a marketing/advertising person right now (nowhere near Phoenix), to work for a research project. I don't know that the people I'm getting are at all representative of what most new graduates are bringing to the table, since I suspect most of the people interested in this job are looking at corporations, not scientific research groups. But for whatever it may be worth, what you're describing would already pretty much blow out of the water anything that's been brought to me so far. Half my applicants aren't bringing any kind of portfolio at all, and the rest are bringing a handful of pieces at best, without much variety in the type of work shown.

Here are a few answers that might or might not be useful:

1) I can't help with how to decide whether a piece is good enough in terms of its design or writing. But what I can say is that as an employer, I'm interested not only in pieces that look good, but in pieces where the applicant can spin me the story of how they came up with it and why it worked. If you can tell me what the parameters for creating the piece were, what innovative way you came up with to make the piece stand out, and what specific outcome it had in terms of boosting responses, getting good feedback, etc., that's a piece I want to hear about.

3) As the employer, I'd love to see both things you've designed and things you've written. But if you've only done one or the other on a certain piece, please make that clear to me when you show me the portfolio. Also, if the copywriting you're showing me includes long pieces, it would be great if you could have a photocopy for me (or at least not mind if I run off and make one while you wait), because I don't have time to read the whole thing in the interview but if you come off well I'll want to look at the way you write in more detail later.

4) Can't answer as to the rights. But again - I'd love to see that stuff, but please make it clear to me what your contribution was. (And again, this is a great place for you to tell me a good story about how you contributed to your team pulling the project together.)

6) One candidate did show me some of his photography. It was great, showed me another side of his visual presentation abilities, and it did make him stand out more in my mind. I didn't think less of anyone else for not having that, but it was an added bonus in his case.

7) Some candidates have offered to show me their portfolios right away; others have waited until I've asked partway through the interview. I'd rather see it right away, as it can help me frame my questions later if you've already talked me through some of the kind of work you've done, what your abilities are, maybe what software you've used, etc. I always return the portfolios right away, but I have asked to photocopy articles to look at more carefully later.

Again, not sure if any of that's helpful. If it is, feel free to MeFiMail me if you have more questions about the employer's point of view or want more specifics.
posted by Stacey at 6:41 PM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would recommend you go with an online portfolio.
Keep it simple, use a nice clean design. No flash splash page or music.
You'll have an easily up-datable, convenient way to show off the best of your work and incorporate all the necessary info you want to include along with each piece.
Consider printing postcards with your design or photography and the URL to send out to potential employers.

If you do choose to do a traditional print-style portfolio, don't do anything crazy with Plexiglas! The truth is, people generally don't want to deal with that crap, especially from a kid fresh out of school. Keep it simple. Concentrate on making the work look great, and a clean presentation format.

As far as how to choose, I would only show your best work. Pick things you are proud of. I'm disinterested in the process and what your involvement was if the end result doesn't look good.

Also, you might want to re-consider Phonenix for this career choice. There is certainly some advertising work there, and it's a nice city, but for anything media-related I'm a serious advocate of jumping into the big pond. Not too much national or international ad work comes out of Phoenix. You might as well work your way up somewhere that will help your career. A junior or midlevel guy hitting NYC, LA, or Chicago after a few years at a Phoenix ad agency doesn't really get much respect unless his work is off the charts amazing.
posted by BillBishop at 9:40 PM on March 11, 2008

Response by poster: @BillBishop:
Do you have a recommendation for an online portfolio service? Or should I roll my own? I've seen some online portfolio sites, and I know Adrants just started hosting some portfolio service. The postcard idea sounds great. Do you have a suggestion for a binding of some sort, other than Plexiglass? I understand what you mean, and I've heard it before-I just want to show some creativity as well as have something that fits the dimensions of my work. Phoenix isn't necessarily my first choice, but my S.O. will be attending grad school there for the next three years, and I'll be moving down there after I graduate. I don't know a thing about where agencies are or where the best ones are (besides NYC, LA, and Chicago, as you mentioned) but I'm thinking there will be better opportunities there than here in Fargo. I also have some friends in the area, which is a lot more than I can say for the other big cities. Thank you for your insight, it's much appreciated (you too, Stacey!)
posted by whiskey point at 11:22 PM on March 11, 2008

The most important (and sometimes overlooked) thing is: you're not presenting your past work, it's not a retrospective exhibition, you want to show your thinking processes, your intellectual reaction to a brief: a few posters, magazine ads and tv ads are nothing but the mere output of that. And, as BillBishop rightfully points out, that is interesting only if the works are good.

Any creative director you're going to have interviews with knows that. So, you really should not overthink it. You want something that is as transparent (insert any plexiglass joke here) as possible, letting only your works stand out. Re: selecting your work, the most substantial part of learning is probably being able to self evaluate the quality of an idea or its execution. Confront yourself with colleagues, and with your teachers, and never show work you're not proud of (there's going to be some, inevitably).

If you're going to pitch yourself at a distance, I'd go for the simplest route possible: set up a minimal website, have taste in typography and presentation, briefly detail in a few sentences how every single work was conceived and brought to life, always locate works in time, space and context. You want to have a link to an abridged PDF version of your portfolio with the best works and your updated resume, on every page of the site. You'll have your contact infos readily available. Learn how to write a good cover letter and pitch yourself to people you're wanting to work with, because you like their work and their approach to work.

Materials: if you're going to work in print, you have to start getting the feel of materials. People will touch your work even before looking at it. I'd refrain from plexiglass, brushed aluminium, etc. These are generally perceived as stylish (as well as... cliche) but they're cold. You want matter around your work. Learn to carefully select paper, you can order sampler packs from most paper companies, and they'll probably send you those for free (yes, it works more or less like drugs).

Make friends with the owner of a print shop, learn how work has to be properly prepared for print, that will save you and them lots of work and headaches in your future, have your works printed with a professional (or very good) inkjet or plotter on good paper, that is going to be money well spent. Prints of websites screenshots suck bad, really bad. You'll have to work on them a lot in photoshop to actually get something printable.

Decide a good format for your book (mine is at the moment a hefty 10" by 14", weighing in at about six pounds in its full glory and yes, it's in a 2-ring binder, the next one, which I'm going to start designing as the current work rush is over, is probably going to be a more manageable size)

Mount printed sheets on black or dark gray cardstock cut accordingly and punched for spiral binding and have them bound with a black metal spiral binding and real good, thick paperboard as cover. Possibly, gain access to a spiral binding machine, and purchase a box of spirals, because you'll want to open your book every so often to remove old works as you replace them with newer, better ones. Not everything you do is going to end up in there, and nothing is going to stay there forever. You can make multiple copies and send them around, you can add/replace works regularly (make it grow into a habit because procrastinating your work collection/organization when you'll be actually working is going to be a time killer), you will also be able to tailor your selection of works to a specific possible employer/client/agency. Also, the order in which you present your works is important.

Last thing: you're not going to work as a web designer/graphic designer/art director/copywriter/flash programmer all toghether. The industry tends to be specialised, and so you will eventually be. A substantial grasp of the inner workings of fields related to yours will help you a great deal, though.

Also, none of this advice is to be trusted, except for the sunscreen part.
posted by _dario at 2:05 AM on March 12, 2008

I'm an architectural designer working in Phoenix. I've also been considering some of the items you have questions about (including complementary skills like writing along with design, etc) and I have a fair bit of experience both with portfolios and with job hunting in general. I don't have time right now to address all your points, but mefimail me if you'd like to pick my brain. The one thing I'll say real quick: your work should be the focus of your portfolio, ie your portfolio is certainly an artifact of your design sensibility but the design of the book should fade away and let the content do the talking. Keep it simple, in other words :)
posted by Chris4d at 3:49 PM on March 12, 2008

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