How to build your advertising portfolio

A short-list of 10 key tips on how to build your advertising portfolio. Perfect for all you graduates and first-timers, or perhaps you’re looking for some tips to give your portfolio a bit of a refresh? I’ve spoken to some of the best in advertising, to see what they look for and what advice you can take away on how to build your advertising portfolio and get it spot on.

September is always the month of “new beginnings” for a lot of people – back to school / college / uni, back to work after some time off over the summer – and one way you should be kicking off your new beginning is by starting your ad book, or getting it up to scratch. September is the time to start applying for those grad schemes, so here’s how to build your advertising portfolio and create an impression.

1. Lateral thinking and imagination

Advertising is all about new and fresh ideas, so try not to think too literally. Successful Creatives are all about lateral thinking and imagination.

When you’re first starting out and getting your book together you have the creative freedom to come up with whatever you feel works, no restrictions or red tape, just pure ideas. When you’re actually in advertising and working full time, your Creative Partner and your Creative Director can refine and rein in your ideas, but when you’re at the beginning of your career it’s all about showing your capabilities, so don’t be afraid if you think your ideas are a little ‘out there’.

2. Portfolio personality

Similar to my point of including ‘out there’ ideas – include some work which shows off your personality.

If your dry sense of humour is what sets you apart from everyone else, then make sure you include that. Your personality is what makes you, you and when you’re first starting out you need to make sure you’re remembered. So including some elements of your personality in your work is great way to do so.

Also advertising is all about diversity. Any one agency will have people from different backgrounds, different countries, different forms of higher education (if any). Everyone has their own way of seeing the world and their own unique way of answering briefs, so this is why it’s vital you get your personality in your work. There will be some agencies you won’t be fit into, but others will be a perfect fit for you.

3. From brief to conception: be inspired

Some people choose to go to uni to learn the ways of advertising and pick up the skills they need. But the truth is you don’t have to go to uni to get into advertising. Yes uni will give you client / D&AD / YCN briefs, but you can also find these online. Alternatively, make up your own. Pick a brand, write a brief and create a solution for them. Build on these so you’ve got work to put in your book.

Also as a Creative in advertising, you need to make sure you are always at the top of your game. You need to see inspiration everywhere and in everything and this includes going to places to be inspired. Never be closed-minded. Read everything you can, watch films, go to art galleries, museums, exhibitions, plays etc… You never know when that random one-man-monologue you sat through will one day be your inspiration for a client brief.

4. Show your ability to think

Your advertising book is only as good as your ideas. Creating ideas will be your job, it’s what will get you hired, so show your ability to think, create concepts and be creative. Don’t worry too much about the execution at this stage, just get your ideas down on paper. Creative Director’s will be able to see your potential.

5. Attend book crits

Book crits are the key to your success and at the heart of how to build your advertising portfolio.

When you’ve got your book up-together, arrange for Creative Teams at agencies to view your book. This is the best way to get your name and your ideas out there and get some valuable feedback from those who know the industry best. If after sending a few emails and making some calls, no-one seems to be free to see you, go to the agency armed with your book and ask to see someone there and then. I interviewed several Creatives and a number of them said this tactic worked for them when they started out.

Make sure you take their feedback on board, go home, make amends and arrange to see them again so they can see your new ideas. Show you’re passionate and persistent.

How to build your advertising portfolio

6. Think about presentation

Presentation is everything. A neat, tidy and well put together portfolio shows you take pride in your work and you care. Keep your portfolio looking it’s best and Creative Director’s will remember you for all the right reasons, rather than remembering you as the person with the torn lack-of-standards book.

7. Quality over quantity

Creatives and Creative Directors are busy people and don’t have time to sift through your book crammed full of every piece of work you’ve ever done. Quality over quantity.

Only include the work that you are most proud of and feel passionately about. A ballpark figure of 6 – 10 campaigns is a good amount to put in your book. Start the front of your book with your favourite piece, followed by your second favourite. End your portfolio on a high with your third favourite and fill the rest of your book with ideas you like and feel proud of.

The normal rule is that each campaign in your book should have one main idea, followed by three supporting ideas. This demonstrates your ability to think, your range of ideas and that you are capable of creating a full advertising campaign.

8. Tailor work

Tailor your portfolio to the agency you’re going to see. Are they traditional or can they be controversial? Do they favour traditional work over digital, or vice versa. It is important that your work and your ideas are relevant to them.

But in the same breath, don’t just show your book to any and every agency. Only show the work that you actually want to do. So if digital is your forte and where you see yourself going, then there’s probably no point including traditional forms of advertising in your book. If you can get that right, then you have higher chances of finding an agency right for you and being in a job that you love.

9. Be online

Having a physical book is the norm for getting you and your ideas seen by the people that matter, but when you’re trying to get your foot in the door you may find it handy to have an online version of your portfolio which you can send over first.

Also create a blog; nearly everyone I interviewed about how to get into advertising said they loved to see what interests people had and that they took time out of their normal day to do something they were passionate about. If advertising is your genuine interest and passion than start a blog on it. If you’re mad for painting, or cooking or expanding your ant farm then write about that too. Show them what makes you unique and they’ll remember you.

10. Do your research

My final tip on how to build your advertising portfolio is research your agencies. You won’t do yourself any favours just turning up and not knowing who they are, thinking you can wing it – they will find out and suss you out.

You don’t need to do pages of research, just take 30 mins or so to look at their website, their clients and the work they’ve done. Creative Directors will also be impressed that you took the time to swat up on the agency.

That about summarises my 10 tips on how to build your advertising portfolio. Have you learnt any key tips for creating your book, or is there anything missing from the list which you think should be included? Add your thoughts to the comments below, or let me know on Twitter, thanks!

Portfolio image here