ihaveanidea's Portfolio Night 2006
ihaveanidea's Portfolio Night took place on Thursday night in nine cities throughout Canada and the US. It was a chance for budding creatives to get their work in front of some of the most renowned Creative Directors in the areas.
The event simultaneously took place in Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax. CDs particpated from top agencies like Goodby Silverstein & Partners, McCann, TBWA/Chiat Day, StrawberryFrog, Butler Shine Stern & Partners, Modernista!, Arnold Worldwide, Ogilvy & Mather, BBDO, Mullen, BBH, DDB, Leo Burnett, JWT, Publicis, WAX, Republik pubicite+design, Rethink, Saatch & Saatchi, and Change Advertising among many many others.
The Boston event took place at Rumblestrip/National. As with all the other cities, for $35, each adgrunt hopeful got 15 minutes with a creative director to show their book and get advice for making their work better. Some even left with invitations for interviews back at the agency.
All locations were connected with a webcam, although some locations were a bit difficult to see, like ones that took place in dark bars. At the end of the event, all involved Creative Directors will be able to search through uploaded portfolios for every student and junior who attended the event, no matter where they were.
In each city, an agency played host. And in Boston, that agency was Modernista!. The folks from ihaveanidea got in touch with Shane Hutton and he rounded up a group of CDs from the area. They included Shane Hutton, Will Uronis, and Tim Vaccarino from Modernista!, Alec Beckett from Nail, Jamie Bakum from BEAM Interactive, Kevin Moehlenkamp, Tim Cawley and Kevin Daley from Hill Holliday, John Wolfarth, Jim Hagar and Amy Hunt from Mullen, Matt Magee, Chris Frame and Aaron DaSilva from PJA Advertising, Jay Williams, Roger Baldacci and Wade Devers from Arnold Worldwide, Greg Smith from The Via Group, Benjamin Palmer from The Barbarian Group and Jamie Mambro from MMB.
Approximately 29 people, mostly students and a few who had a few years experience showed up, books in tow. There was a mix of people who knew "who was who" and others who didn't really know the CDs, which probably benefitted them in that there was less pressure in what is already a stressful situation. Some CDs had a constant group of students hovering nearby waiting for their chance to get in front of "that guy from Modernista!".
Emily, from ihaveanidea, ran the event, which seemed to go very smoothly, with the help of some folks from Modernista! Each session had a 1 minute warning and at the end, the mooing of the rubber cow or squacking of the rubber chicken meant it was time to find the next table. The hopefuls had no idea who they were going to be paired up with, only a list of table numbers that they were to rotate around to. In between each session there was a five minute break for people to be able to chat with a CD that they didn't have on their list as well as at the end there was an open time for people to make last minute rounds or go back and chat some more with a CD.
While waiting for her next session, I spoke with Ryan Kenny, a junior at Boston University who hopes to be an art director or desinger. She had heard about the event through an email at her school.
The confidence of the students went from cocksure to slightly nervous and maybe a little intimidated. Books varied from ads mounted on blackboard loose in funky
boxes tied with ribbon to plastic presentation books with the work inserted into sleeves.
It was interesting to be a fly on the wall, listening to students talking to each other about who they met with, overhearing CDs give advice on everything from how a resume should have some sort of creativity injected into it to critiques on which ad in a campaign was strongest and advice on strengthening the weak sister ad.
At the end of the night, I spoke with two creative directors about the evening.
Jamie Bakum, Associate CD at BEAM Interactive.
adland: Did you find most of the people you met with where in school?
Bakum: Yes. Most were and there were a couple relocations. The bulk seemed to be people graduating. A lot of BU students, a lot of advertising majors from wherever, and a couple people doing some design work.
adland: For people who are trying to get into the business, would you say juniors should be wary of leaving their portfolio behind or is it better for them to put together a leave behind vs. only having a couple professional books?
Bakum: I would definitely recommend leave behinds, because I still find that we'll occasionally (although we don’t probably catalogue them as well as we could), I'll still sometimes find when I'm going through things a mini DVD will fall out of my desk and I'll say "Oh yeah, I remember this person.” So yeah, I think it's a definite benefit.
adland: Leave behind as paper or?
Bakum: Because we do strictly Interactive, I'm used to seeing a DVD.
adland: So for you it's not that big of a deal?
Bakum: No, not at all. And again I would hope that, obviously you don't want the presentation to be stronger than the work, but I think there are couple of really like nice books that'd be nice to have laying around, as long as it's not gigantic, that's clearly visually interesting and well put together. Obviously how many of those can you afford to put together? People are always going to be digging through, they're going to stumble across things, they're going to say that this guy wasn't right 6 months ago but something’s changed, lets revisit that or “Who's the guy who had the…oh, yea hold on a second.” So that I think is valuable.
adland: What would be the most bizarre thing you've ever had someone do to get your attention, because I know there are many stories about people who tried to do crazy things?
Bakum: Well, I have to say the one that sticks out the most was the person who responded to an ad in Adweek that mentioned a specific client that we do work for and claimed extensive experience in having done the work for that client in his resume and cover letter.
adland: And did it get him an interview?
Bakum: No, and actually one of the crueler elements of my office and I actually strung him along a little while. To be honest there was enough ambiguity there had been a brief time when a different agency was doing some work and so we said ok so maybe he was a freelancer so let's at least find out. And that's when he launched this entire 6 page dissertation on the integral role he played on this account. It was hysterical.
So, I think they actually strung him along for one or two phone calls and then said you’re insane. And I know it's kinda sad. Because then we got one of those “I got laid off and my life's a mess” sort of things. So you know, I wouldn't necessarily toy with people but this was pretty egregious. And we mentioned the client in the ad, so…we want to make sure he doesn't surface again.
adland: What would be the one key piece of advice you would give someone who was looking for work?
Bakum: Well I think relating to what I saw here, I think the strongest thing would be to immerse themselves as much as possible just sort of general, not so much specific design or advertising or specific things within their field, but I wanted to send them to mocoloco.com, which is basically architecture and design, like they should be going to typography sites, and going to Compendium’s netdiver - just looking through examples of design, and looking through things you don't necessarily thing you're into but overlap like look at architecture websites, read metropolis, to just absorb. I think that's how people learn the language of design.
And I think I didn’t see as much of that as I would have hoped. Some of it was people who were shifting industries struck me as naturally cautious people and it was sort of like “don't be afraid to go crazy a little bit”. You can always dial that back when you go to show people, but explore a little more about general design and visual things that are out there, books, websites, magazines, museums, so...It's all borrowed, reshaped and reborn, and that's how you learn to change it and make it your own by knowing what it is to begin with.
And I can't blame anyone, but I saw a lot of "make an ad that features a product" and the assignment was taken very literally, it may have been executed well, but I almost feel like there was less of a "take a step back" and what’s the...all the questions you have to ask in your professional life: "What's the brand?", "What’s the market?", “Who’s this aimed at?” I feel like some of the stuff I saw was like “oh I have to make an ad about that and use this and put this in” and there wasn't that “what should it look like”, “what shouldn’t it look like”...
adland: Do you think it hurts students who don't have a brief to work from where they have that structure set up?
Bakum: Maybe in the sense that it would introduce them to the language of those things but I don't necessarily, I would hope that those steps would be the precursor to any sort of project, whether it's a school assignment, or personal project, or something executed for a client.
adland: And I guess it would make a difference how the schools are set up?
Bakum: Advertising majors, I don't know if, I almost feel like you get, I'd rather see attention to the idea generating side strictly because I feel like the business acumen and knowledge of the industry comes when you're in it anyway, and I think it's the evidence of having great ideas is what gets you the job, because the rest you kind of pick up along the way.
adland: Do you have a preference? There is that school of thought that it doesn't matter how it's put together as long as the ideas are there...
Bakum: I had some good stuff that wasn't particularly polished presentation-wise...certainly the presentation was uneven. I was looking at it differently than if I was interviewing someone. I was looking at it as if they were seeing it as a chance to get their work in front of someone. I wasn't as critical as I would have been in terms of things like that. I guess in some ways it's the part that you can't teach that you want to see and if it's a brilliant idea I don't care if you scribble it on a napkin or draw it on the table because that points to an inkling of how someone's mind works and in an agency setting, odds are they aren’t the ones who are going to be producing it so I don't really care. They're not going to be the ones who make it, so it's kind of secondary.
You can talk all you want about great ideas, but if you need to hid the fact that it's not the best idea. It's tricky because you don't want to get wrapped up in that sort of presentation but the issue too is that those people coming out of portfolio center, there's certainly people coming from Parsons or RISD who have an emersion in things a more generalist program isn't going to have time to dive into. This is an industry where you don't have to go to school I don't think it hurts but it's not your BFA that gets you the job it's your work.
Matt Magee, Creative Director at PJA Advertising & Marketing
adland: For aspiring people, what would be the weirdest thing or stunt you've ever had pulled by someone trying to get an interview?
Magee: I don't think I've had any crazy weird stunts, I'd say I've had surprisingly shocking off brief kind of ideas. Such as a campaign that was entirely built around, it was a campaign for hemorrhoid medicine, and the whole tagline was "It's like Altoids for your ass", that was the lead of the whole thing. That was pretty shocking.
adland: Did they get an interview?
Magee: No. And then there was a person who sent in a list of awards that didn't check out, like none of them existed.
adland: What's the best way someone can present their work to you, in any particular format, digital, printed, etc?
Magee: I think it's a combination now. You hear about somebody and they approach you and you want to see some sample of their work, like a quick link to a site. But I don't think it's in anybody's best interest to for that to be the only way their work is seen. Of course if you're a creative director, it's just a better way to weed things out, it goes faster and is on your terms. So what I'd recommend for people is to do a small sampling online that would leave a creative director wanting to know more because I haven't seen the complete breadth.
adland: Would you recommend it being the best 3 or 2?
Magee: I'd say best 5, which is not a hard and fast rule. That should be enough to make it easy for me to see how you think and then have you come in and look at stuff together. I tend to really like to hear people talk about their own work. I think you learn a lot about what they're doing and how they think and where the idea comes from and that's another thing you can't get from the digital thing, so you want just enough of it so that they can get a sense of the person. Also a person might be really great but they just don't fit the need you have right then, so it helps you figure that out. More often than not you're going to have a great person come in.
adland: Do you have a preference on the rough portfolio with awesome ideas vs. highly polished etc?
Magee: It's really not one or the other. You've got to get to a place where the production values aren't distracting you so much, particularly if you're on the art or design side. So you've got to have the ideas. For me the ideas really matter. But, you know I work in a smaller agency environment so we can't really afford to have someone who's great at the ideas but can't design or make it happen at some level.
adland: At a smaller agency you're getting you're hands on the books more than a bigger agency where you have a creative manager who is weeding through the books for you?
Magee: Occasionally if we have a big push on we’ll use a recruiter type, but more often than not we tend to see everything.
adland: What did you think of tonight?
Magee: Oh, it was great!
adland: Would it be something you'd participate in again?
Magee: Oh, absolutely would. I think I’d be better at it next year. I didn’t have a real clear sense of how it was going to work tonight, so it took a little bit to get the hang of. It's also a very particular mind set, like understanding who's sitting in front of you and what do they need to hear right now, what step are they at...that I realized you had to ask and figure that out because I think people are at radically different stages that came across my table.
adland: Where they mostly students?
Magee: They were mostly students, a couple people who were post-school...one person who had 3 years who had done accomplished stuff but not ads.
I would imagine in this situation it would be challenging because you're going from table to table. You speak to five different people about your portfolio in very short blocks of time and these people, you know you're not choosing them. So you're speaking to someone like me, who's coming from a small agency where I'm looking for a certain kind of thing and the kinds of clients we have, and you're going to go to the next table where you're going to talk to the Creative Director of Interactive at one of the area's biggest agencies, and he’s going to be coming at it from a very different angle. And I think that's all really good and beneficial, but the challenge is going to be sorting through all that, and trying to figure it out...some of the people might not have known the difference between the guy at the next table and me, and therefore why are we coming at it from different angles. I think that'd be hard to sort through.
adland:Does it make a difference, do you think, if someone is meeting with someone who does more interactive or print or broadcast?
Magee:In theory, the best case scenario, we're all good judges of creative and the idea and the art direction and copy, whatever the executional requirements, we should be able to judge that. And even the person who's in charge of interactive at a major agency I know he's got a bigger background.
adland: Well, interactive has only been around for ten years or so…
Magee: Right, and it's getting broader and broader and doing more of what other areas of advertising are doing.
At the end of the day I would think with so much diversity of opinions so quickly, it'd be interesting to see if students felt overwhelmed or what.
adland: From the students I spoke with they felt they got a lot of good advice and some said they had a lot of work to do.
Magee: I think it's better to hear it a bunch of times here (that you have work to do on your book)...the briefness and all takes the pressure off verses going into first big interview and you want everything to go right and you don't have much experience interviewing and there's all these variables and you're trying it all out at once, and you get told you have a lot of work to do there'd be a lot more pressure than here.
adland: Plus you get the practice of showing the work.
Magee: And the comfort. It's like muscle memory, you have to get comfortable hearing yourself talk and having the pattern down. And through your first few interviews you’re inventing every sentence as you go along and that's really stressful. So to get that under your belt and have said things to people and seen them react is kinda like “OK, I can say that” and not have to worry about it.
adland: If there was one key piece of advice you could give someone like the people here tonight what would it be?
Magee: I would say, show less work, and make it all really good. I think it's easy to want to throw a bit of everything you've ever done just to show that you can do it. I think it would be better to show less and just have it be really great. You know if you had five pieces that were just outstanding, it'd be a stronger portfolio, and make you look more senior and more mature than having 15 pieces that were all over the map. It's not an easy thing to do.
This is the fourth year ihaveanidea has run this event in Canada, and the first time it has been held "south of the border" in the US. A video to promote the night is here if you want to check it out, and eventually the gallery will have photos up from each event location.
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