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Actionable Content

We’re nearly halfway through the first semester and that means aspiring writers and designers are in the midst of creating/improving/tweaking their portfolios.

And that can be a scary proposition for students. What projects should I include? Which campaigns need to be blown out? Which should be scrapped altogether?

To help illuminate the topic a little bit, I sat down with two fellow Creative Directors – Copywriter Greg Vogler and Art Director Kevin King – to find out what they need to see in student books. And as importantly, what they never want to see again.

DC: Alright, fellas. Let’s get right into it. So, what do you look for in junior portfolios?

GV: Overall, I just look for original thought not only with the ideas but with every element of the execution. Sometimes you can tell when someone is satisfied with an idea, and then the execution simply becomes an afterthought. I want to see great ideas, and then have those ideas brought to life with well thought out copy and design.

KK: To me, it’s range! I like to see skill sets that represent all aspects of the design suite. Many junior designers are usually comfortable in one or two programs and it shows. I was the same way. Dabble in everything from print to video to web.

DC: I think that’s true of all student books, not just those of junior designers. There’s still too much reliance on the trio-of-print-ads model of putting together a book. I get it: it’s an easy way to get across a concept and demonstrate legs, but take a great idea and bring it to life in a novel way with a unique medium and you’ll stand out, guaranteed.

DC: We’re already sort of getting into this territory, but what are some traps you see students fall into when putting their book together?

GV: One pet peeve is seeing too much reliance on choosing cool brands. It screams spec work and, in my opinion, I’d rather see a lesser known brand that makes you work for a good idea. It’s a higher degree of difficulty, but it’s far more impressive than trying to out-Nike Nike.

DC: Totally agree. I’d rather see something smart for a challenging brand than another ad for Lego or hot sauce or, to your point, Nike. That shows me you can make something interesting or intriguing versus just piggybacking on something that’s inherently cool.

KK: Along the same lines, I would say don’t only choose brands where you yourself are the target. It’s more impressive to show some range and pick brands that are out of your personal comfort zone.

DC: So what kinds of things would you like to see more of in portfolios?

GV: More risks and more variety of ideas that hit on a range of emotions.

DC: What do you mean by “risks?”

GV: Just straying away from the expected, not being afraid to be edgy…while having a strategic reason to be edgy.

DC: I think that’s important – having a strategic reason to do so. I’ve seen edgy-for-the-sake-of-edgy and it almost always comes off forced and lowbrow.

KK:  I just want to see polish. I love when I come across someone’s book that has gone the extra mile. Like when someone takes a one-off logo project and turns it into a campaign or program, making much more out of it. They basically make more projects out of projects.

DC: Okay, so that’s what we want to see more of. What’s one thing you never want to see again?

KK: Wisdom Script.

GV: For me, if you’re going to put together a campaign, I’m all for keeping a consistent tagline if you wish, but take the time to craft each piece of the campaign. The most common thing I see from a writing perspective is formulaic ideas that utilize the same headline throughout. Take the core of the idea, and write to it. You’ll end up communicating the same idea, but you can do so in distinctly different ways.

DC: To piggyback on that for a sec, yes, create a tagline, sure. But I don’t understand why I still see so many visual solves in writer portfolios. Like multiple campaigns in some books, devoid of any words save a short tagline. Keep maybe one if the concept is killer enough, but you need to demonstrate to me that you can write.

DC: Any parting advice for students finishing up college, looking to break into advertising?

KK: Look at our portfolios. Do some research on all the agencies in town and find out what they work on. What type of work do they do and/or specialize in? Do you think your work fits that? Then maybe that’s the kind of place you want to be.

GV: I just want them to understand that there’s a lot they haven’t learned. From working with experienced people in an agency setting, to understanding bigger picture client relationships, to the work itself. Be eager. Be open to learning new things. And be dependable. Which is a long way to say, be a good teammate.

Got any more advice for aspiring creatives? Hit us up on Twitter @moosylvania and we’ll pass it along.

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