So You Need to Put Together a Portfolio

Here are Some Tips to Get Started

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Susie Steinberg, the talent scout for creative at ad agency DDB Chicago, says that in order to get your first job in advertising as a writer or art director, you need a portfolio.

What is a portfolio?

"A portfolio usually consists of five to seven campaigns," says Ms. Steinberg. "A campaign is three to five pieces all communicating the same thing. Forget TV -- I don't want to see TV or radio because you shouldn't really know how to do TV or radio."

Ms. Steinberg says that for people looking for entry-level jobs with agencies, the portfolio is all about how you think.

"I think the best way to illustrate that is with print, with guerilla, I love to see great use of out of home," she says. Such as? When Target entered a new market, its campaign included painting manhole covers and the top of the State of Illinois Building with the bulls-eye Target logo.

"That's an excellent creative idea that's not TV or radio or print or anything," she said. "I just like to see five to seven campaigns with three or four pieces each that communicate the same idea in different ways."

Even when ads are only being made for a portfolio, she likes to see real products. And they shouldn't be the easiest products to make ads about. "Do an ad for Tide or Dove, or a certain brand of packaged good like for Rice Krispies treats or Twix bars, something that you get in the real world and that's hard to do," she said.

"Another excellent, excellent way to show how you communicate is a visually driven ad, an ad that has no headline that you look at the picture and there's something maybe altered or something funny in it once you look at it and then you look again," she adds.

One student who sent her book to the agency included an ad for Dawn dishwashing liquid.

"All it was a photograph of a kitchen with the lights turned off. And on the counter was a dish rack with a bunch of dishes on it and an LCD clock and you look at it and you don't see anything and then you look again and you see that the time on the LCD clock is bouncing off the shine of the plate and flashing on the ceiling. And that says everything," she says.

Ms. Steinberg one has to train oneself to think about visual ways of communicating.

"Once you figure out the key to doing a great ad, then you get it," she says. "It's not like you only get it once and then you don't get it anymore. Once you figure out that a great ad is like a roof on a house. One side of the roof is visual, the other side is copy, and if one side doesn't hold up the other then the whole thing falls down. Once you figure that out, then you're like in and you get it and it becomes easier to do. But it's a daunting proposition but once you figure it out, it's great."

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