Your new look ad book

In an extract from his new book, copywriter Simon Veksner offers advice on how best to put your ad portfolio together, now that creative directors have gone digital-crazy

To get a job in advertising writes Simon Veksner, you create dummy or ‘spec’ ads for real clients, put them in a portfolio to showcase your creative talent, then get your ‘book’ seen by creative directors. That’s the method creatives have been using to get a job for well over 40 years now. However, the ‘rules’ for what should be in your book are evolving rapidly. The answer used to be easy: eight ad campaigns (each consisting of three print ads), plus maybe an ambient execution (in non-traditional media, such as ads on the sides of coffee cups, the undersides of aeroplanes or stamped onto students’ foreheads) and the odd TV storyboard (without dialogue).

Such was the way it was, for years. But if your book still looks like that, you’re doing it wrong. Why? Because creative directors have gone digital-crazy. Despite growing up in the age of VCRs and vinyl, most creative directors are surprisingly well informed about digital. They’re closer to the ‘business’ side of the business – they know that the agency’s clients now want great work in non-traditional media, as well as the traditional ones like TV and print. And as well as retraining their existing creatives, they’re looking to the new generation to give them that work. You must be that new generation. Your book must show compelling examples of how brands can exploit the digital space.

Having said all this, you’ve got to show you can do the traditional media as well, so your book still needs to have lots of great print work. And now that camcorders are cheap, and editing software is free, it’s not hard to put together your own TV ads too. If what you produce doesn’t look broadcast-standard, it doesn’t matter. It shows energy – and this is often the difference between good teams and OK ones. But more and more you need to demonstrate how to reach consumers in new ways. That means new media, events, ideas for mobile games, TV shows, crazy shit … maybe even new products. And, above all, digital.

The most recent student team whose book my partner and I recommended to the executive creative director at BBH looked like this: nine campaigns, comprising a total of 21 print ads, two TV ads, six digital executions and 31 (!) executions that were ambient/new products/crazy shit. Maybe there were a few too many of the latter, but you get the idea.

Fashions in student books change. Make sure you’re up-to-the-minute. At the time of writing, the industry is transitioning between the traditional black portfolio with clear plastic sleeves – what you could call an ‘analogue’ book – and digital portfolios. It seems likely that all portfolios will be digital within a short space of time.

A digital portfolio is easy to put together – a simple web search will throw up many sites that offer to help you create one, either for free, or for only a small fee. Have a look at a few that other people have done before you do your own. Decide what you think 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. A simple layout and easy navigation are vital. But whether your work is on a website or on ancient papyrus, the fundamental principles remain the same.

This is an edited extract from How to Make it as an Advertising Creative by Simon Veksner, published by Laurence King; £17.95.

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