Mailbag: What exactly do you mean by “Portfolio”?

Question: Here’s the thing, I'm unsure what a book is even supposed to be. I mean even the physical components I'm unsure of, is it glossy paper? How is it bound? I'm confused. I know also as a copywriter, they aren't really looking at the designs but my DIY designs are really CHEESY even though I think the copy may be strong.  - Nicole, copywriter wannabe.

 A: Yikes. This is a pretty big question. Ok. *rolls up sleeves* Let’s take this in pieces… (warning, this one is long. If you want the quick answer, scroll down to the end, I wrote it in blue.) 

What is a “book”?
Your book is your portfolio. Your portfolio is your book. It’s a collection of your work, showing an agency that you can think, write and have a deeper than average understanding of advertising.
It pretty much is physical or virtual evidence of how awesome you are. 

Is it really a book?
It could be a physical ie pages you print out, a PDF or a website. 

Art directors and designers definitely need a physical book since the way things look (type, paper, color etc) matter more for them. I think writers get a bit more leeway. I went to an interview once and we used my book as an expensive coaster.

Everyone should have a website with their work and a link to download a PDF. It’s 2011, if you don’t own you’re failing right now. 

What do I put in my book?
- Your best shit. Only the best. Nothing you kinda like. Nothing that’s almost there. Nothing that’s kinda alright. If it’s not great, keep working on it until it is, then put it in your book.

“Shit” being fake ads, of course. Or real ones if you’ve freelanced and they are great. (Don’t just include produced work just because it was produced. If it’s not good, cut it.) 

-  Include around 5 – 9 campaigns. Anything more is tiring to look at and will give people a reason to hate you. Lean more to 5 in your physical/PDF book (when someone sees 30+ pages they get overwhelmed and look for the next shiny object) Lean more to 9 online.  

-  Show executions across various media – print, interactive, mobile, out of home, innovation and guerrilla. (Best practice is to leave out TV storyboards/commercials or radio scripts/ spots unless they are really, really great.) 

-  Online feel free to add a few extras, fun stuff you made/did/wrote – your paintings, photography, blogs, random videos – whatever shows your creativity, personality and style. But only one or two things, anything more is overkill and distracting. And make sure it’s separate to your work. Your work is the hero.

Who should I do campaigns for? 
- Pick products, services and special interests/causes to advertise and pretend that they gave you infinity billion dollars to come up with the most awesome and effective campaign ever to get people love and buy their brand. (Note I said “effective” so that means whatever you do needs to make sense and make them money in some way.) 

- You can do big, national brands or little, local names, but switch it up. Do one campaign for Tide and one for Tito’s Bakery & Salsa Studio. (Is that racist?)
-  Do not do any brand that already does amazing work. You’ll look stupid next to them. Unless you’re adding something amazing to expand something they’ve already done, or coming up something groundbreaking they (or their agency in Tokyo) haven’t even thought of yet, then leave the Coke/Nike/ Budweiser, etc ideas out of your book. 

- Include a social interest piece or cause. It’s a nice break in your book and gives you a chance to show a range of emotions. (Please note, not everything you do should be funny. You’re not going to be making ads for 24 year old frat boys. Be smart, be strategic and think about who you’re talking to and do something that is relevant to them. Not you.) 

- Do not do several clients in the same category. So if you do Sprint, don’t have an ad for Verizon later on. You have a wide range of categories to pick from - household goods, financial services, automotive, tourism, entertainment, food, medicine, blah blah blah. 

- Diversity is key here. You want to show the depth and breadth of your skills. Hey look, I can write long copy! Hey look, I can do a banner! Hey look, I can do something very serious! Hey look, I’m being funny here! Hey look, here’s an iPhone app! 

What my 5 – 9 campaigns should look like?
This changes from place to place and probably year to year so feel free to ignore everything I say, but here’s a basic idea. 

- Print: something type heavy and something visually driven – both idea-heavy and strategy-driven. Writers, there is where you show you can write and make things sound good. Art directors, this is where you show you can lay type and make things look good.

- Fully integrated campaigns showing a big idea executed online, in print, OOH, events, social media, mobile and anything else that shows how the brand would engage with people.

- Online/social/mobile ideas. How can you engage and involve people online in new and exciting ways? *jazz hands*

- A miscellaneous item. A poster. An app. A product enhancement. A new way to use media. An idea to change the world. (Thunder rolls and lightning strikes in my head whenever I read that sentence. Does that happen to you too? Maybe try saying it out loud. The thunder should hit right around “WORLD.” No? Just me? Oh.)

   Use video case studies where necessary to show how your idea works. Make it short, lively and self-explanatory. If you're not around it should be able to do the talking for you. And make sure it looks amazing. 
And when I have my campaigns, then what?
- Put your book together.

- Put your strongest pieces first and last, so you start with a bang and end with a bang. 

- Spread the campaigns out to keep things interesting. Something copy-heavy is followed by something visually-driven, an big integrated campaign is followed by a super simple, one-page idea, a very manly product is followed by something for babies, and so on. 

- If you're an art director, make sure all the layouts, designs and visual elements are on point. If you're a writer, make sure the copy is smart, quick and engaging. Ugly layouts make good copy look bad and bad copy makes beautiful layouts look bad. So  no matter what discipline you are, make sure your work is creative, strategic and smart - you are responsive for the overall aesthetic and strength of your book. 

 - Include a quick description if an idea needs a bit of background. People don’t have time to Google Tito’s Bakery & Salsa Studio is the only Cuban establishment owned by Koreans. Say what problem you solved or what strategy you took to end up with your campaign then let you work be the hero. 

How do I make my physical book?
- Use high quality paper and ink. Get it professionally done to make sure it’s as top-notch as possible. 

- Use tabloid size print-outs or larger, but not too large that it’s cumbersome to carry or hold. 

- Try to avoid binding because you may get feedback to remove things or move things around and if it’s bound you’re stuck now aren’t you?

- Avoid plastic covers because they give a bad glare 

How do I make my online book?
-       There are great websites and templates out there, pick which best work for you or just design your own. 

-       Try carbonmade or cargocollective. Some copywriters can even get away with using blogs like blogger or posterous. Whatever you do, make it professional, clean, clear and classy. 

 - Make sure it’s easy to navigate, and I don’t know if I’ve said this before, let your work be the hero.

Ok, now what next?
- Read the Breaking In Book. It’s full of interviews from top CDs saying exactly what they look for in books and is far better than 93% of anything I’ve written here today.

- Read my post on Your Portfolio. Start contacting people. Email recruiters, head hunters, regular working folk and ask them for feedback (See emailing tips here) on how to make your book better, stroke their egos and try to get some face time. Try to do freelance or get an internship to get real-world experience. 

- Keep pushing and keep improving.  

Quick Answer: If this felt overwhelming and scary and borderline impossible, go to Portfolio School. There are people there whose job it is to help you and they know so much more than I do. 

I need a nap now.