Are you a dog with a flash waistcoat?

Creatives should ditch their black case and laminates in favour of a digital ‘book’, says James McNulty

You never forget your first folio. Mine was a black Artcare, of course, and we never used to put more than six or seven campaigns in it, since the transparent sleeves cost an exorbitant 59p (at the time). They’d often spill out onto the floor during inter­views. We then moved up to a black case made of corrugated plastic, when we’d accumulated enough precious ‘laminates’.

But the advertising industry now finds itself in a transitional stage, with many creatives still using some form of physical portfolio, and others having moved all of their work online. (The Americans have been digital-only for some time, perhaps because of the cost of sending books across the country in UPS trucks).

If you haven’t made the leap yet, and are wondering whether you should do so, there’s a very simple answer. Yes. Immediately, if not sooner. Consider this: despite growing up in an age when the most advanced piece of kit in an agency was the door handle, today’s creative directors have gone digital-crazy. They know what the future looks like, and your portfolio needs to brand you as the team who can bring it to them.

The one possible exception is that if you’re applying for a head of art job, or perhaps you’re in a specialist print team, then you may want to have a physical book as well, since digital can’t (yet) display press ads in quite their proper glory.

(I don’t recommend putting your work on a disk – however much testing you do, it will nearly always fail to load on the CD’s laptop, due to unfore­seen compatibility issues. If the disk does load, it will crash the machine and delete all his porn.)

So, there are three main types of online portfolio: free, almost free, and expensive. The free method means using off-the-shelf build-your-own-website software like WordPress or Blogger. And if you’re a student team, these free-and-cheerful solutions are just about acceptable. But if you’re not a student team, it doesn’t look so good. You either look like a cheapskate, or someone who doesn’t care terribly much about the presentation of their work.

The next step up is Carbonmade (carbonmade.com). This site will quickly make you a high-quality, profes­sional website. Albeit, since lots of creatives are now doing this, a generic one. Is that a problem?

A mate of mine at The Talent Business thinks it is. “It looks lazy and old-fashioned,” she told me. You could argue it would be a better system if everyone had the same portfolio (as they used to when every­one had a black Artcare) since it would focus attention more on the work than its packaging. There’s a good reason why every dog in a dog show is required to do the same tricks – it makes the comparison easier, and fairer. But times have changed, and we’re living in an age where a dog with a flash waistcoat may have an advantage.

So if you really want to maximise your chances of getting hired, and your salary, you’ll need to invest in a bespoke online portfolio. Unless you know some­­one who knows Flash, that means spending a bit of cash.

But think of the benefits. A web­site is much more of a marketing tool than a physical book ever could be, since it offers far more of an opportu­nity to put across what your tastes and interests are. Many agencies today are interested in who you are as a creative being, not just your work. And websites allow that to come across, in a way that portfolios never did.

Example: Chiappe & Saunby’s portfolio (adamandsaunby.com). As you’d expect from a team of their reputation, the work in their portfolio is slick and cool. But you start thinking that even before you see the work. From the moment you log on, you’re presented with a very cool, very slickly-designed piece of animation. And that style is carried right through the navigation. The whole thing says ‘we know how to pimp your brand’.

Have a look at what other people have done, before you do your own. Decide what they’re doing well, and not so well … then copy the elements that you think are good and improve on the bits that aren’t.

And despite all the whizzbang possibilities that digital offers, I urge you to make your site’s navigation as simple and as fast as you can. Because there’s one thing the move from ‘analogue’ books to digital has not altered – creative directors are pressed for time. And have the attention span of a housefly.

‘James McNulty’ (a pseudonym) is a creative at a leading London advertising agency

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